Dead Serious (Crawshanks Guide to the Recently Departed #1) by Vawn Cassidy (audiobook)- Narrated by Joel Leslie

dead serious

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In the business of unfinished business…

Tristan Everett has always preferred the company of the dead because they usually don’t talk back. Being a somewhat awkward introvert working as a pathologist at the Hackney Public Mortuary suits him just fine. That is, until a freak accident with a rogue ice cube and suddenly he can see ghosts. No longer content to just lie on the table and let him figure out how they died, they’re now peering over his shoulder critiquing his work and confessing their most lascivious sins before skipping off merrily into the afterlife.

Just when he thought his life couldn’t get any weirder, sassy drag queen, Dusty Le Frey, is wheeled in with a toe tag and she’s not prepared to go quietly into the light. Not only is she furious at the prospect of spending eternity in last season’s gold lame, she’s determined that he help her solve her murder.

Suddenly Tristan finds himself thrown into a world of sequins and fake eyelashes, and worse still, he may have developed a bit of a crush on Scotland Yard’s brand new drool-worthy detective, Inspector Danny Hayes, who’s been assigned to Dusty’s murder. Oh, and as the icing on top of a really crappy cake, the killer now wants him dead too…

All he ever wanted was a simple life but suddenly he’s juggling work, a deliciously sexy detective, a stubborn ghost and a relentless murderer… and things have just gotten dead serious…

Rating: Narration  – B+; Content – D+

I was intrigued by the blurb for Dead Serious, which promised a mystery featuring a socially awkward pathologist trying to find a murderer and a romance between said pathologist and the gorgeous detective assigned to the case. The twist in the story is that the pathologist can see ghosts and is being haunted by the spirit of the murder victim, a sassy drag-queen by the name of Dusty Le Frey; it sounded like fun, and with Joel Leslie narrating, I knew I was in a safe pair of hands, so to speak.

Tristan Everett is a pathologist at the Hackney Public Mortuary in East London, and while cutting open dead bodies is probably not everyone’s idea of a good time, he likes his job and is good at it. Being a bit of an introvert, Tristan kind of prefers the company of the dead anyway – at least he doesn’t have to make idle conversation with them. He’s been persuaded to go to a leaving do at a local pub, where he catches sight of the hottest guy he’s ever seen – but before they can do much more than nod and smile at each other, Tristan somehow manages to get an ice cube lodged in his throat and, unable to breathe, chokes and passes out. When he comes to, he’s on the floor of the pub with Mr. Hottie crouching over him; feeling like an idiot, Tristan is duly wheeled away by the attending paramedics, and doesn’t think he’ll ever see his dream guy again.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Seducing the Sorcerer by Lee Welch (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

seducing the sorcerer

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Homeless and jobless, Fenn Todd has nearly run out of hope. All he has left are his longing for horses and the strength of his own two hands. But when he’s cheated into accepting a very ugly sackcloth horse, he’s catapulted into a world of magic, politics, and desire.

Fenn’s invited to stay at the black tower, home of the most terrifying man in the realm: Morgrim, the court sorcerer. Morgrim has a reputation as a scheming villain, but he seems surprisingly charming—and sexy—and Fenn falls hard for him.

However, nothing is as it seems, and everyone at the tower is lying about something. Beset by evil hexes, violent political intrigue, and a horse that eats eiderdowns, Fenn must make the hardest choices of his life.

Can a plain man like Fenn ever find true love with a scheming sorcerer?

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B

Lee Welch’s Seducing the Sorcerer is a quirky, sweet and inventive fantasy that combines an opposites-attract, slow-burn romance between two men in their forties (yay for older protagonists!) with magic, mystery and political intrigue. I enjoyed the book when I read it last year and have been looking forward to experiencing it again in audio, especially with the always entertaining Joel Leslie at the microphone.

Forty-six-year-old Fenn Todd, a down on his luck itinerant labourer, finds a day’s work on a farm where he’s offered coin and a meal as payment. He’s about to get to work when a younger man – the farmer’s nephew – offers him a horse instead of the money, and even though Fenn suspects he’s being played, he can’t squash the hope he feels. A horse of his own, even if it’s one bound for the knacker’s yard, even if he only gets to take care of it for a short while… he agrees, in spite of his misgivings.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Treasure (Greynox to the Sea #1) by Kim Fielding (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

treasure

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Julian Massey has always been sickly. When the young man’s parents send him to the seaside town of Urchin Cove to recuperate, he finds himself stranded in a tiny cabin with only the quirky local inhabitants for company. Then a storm blows through, and he finds an unexpected discovery washed up on the beach: an unconscious man.

After stealing a treasure, Kit Archer is taken prisoner by a ruthless pirate, Captain Booth. When a storm hits the pirate ship, Kit is able to escape, but not without serious injuries. Jules nurses him back to health, and friendship grows into desire. But Captain Booth is bound to come in search of his treasure and the man who stole it.

In a world with dragons, sprites, and wizards, it’s going to take more than a little magic for Jules and Kit to find lasting happiness together.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B-

I so enjoyed listening to Kim Fielding’s Farview a few weeks ago that I decided to back-track and listen to the novella that preceded it, Treasure. It’s a little gem of a tale that introduces listeners to the magical world of Greynox and Croftwell with its imps and wizards and dragon-drawn carriages

Julian Massey – a quiet, bookish young man who has suffered from poor health all his life – is sent by his family to the seaside town of Urchin Cove in order to take advantage of the restorative effects of the fresh, sea air. When he arrives at the holiday cottage rented for him, Julian is at something of a loss; he’s never had to look after himself before, so has to learn how to do simple tasks very quickly (I have to say that I found it odd he was sent there alone given his family’s worries for his health). But he does learn, surprising himself with the sense of achievement he feels and enjoying his new-found freedom from his family’s constant and suffocating concern, his books and his occasional chat with the quirky inhabitants of the nearby village. It’s not long before Julian begins to feel the benefit of the change of environment and the exercise.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Farview (Greynox by the Sea #2) by Kim Fielding (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

farview

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Ravaged by a horrific experience, Oliver Webb flees the smog-bound city of Greynox for a quiet seaside village and the inheritance he’s never seen: a cottage called Farview. He discovers clear skies, friendly imps, and a charming storyteller named Felix Corbyn.

With help from Felix’s tales, Oliver learns surprising secrets about his family history and discovers what home really means. But, with Felix cursed, Oliver growing deathly ill, and an obligation in Greynox hanging heavy around his neck, it seems that not even wizards can save the day.

Still, as Felix knows, stories are the best truths and the most powerful magic. Perhaps the right words might yet conjure a chance for happiness.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

You know how, sometimes, you finish a book, sit back with a sigh and think “what a lovely story!”? I did just that after listening to Kim Fielding’s Farview (book two in her Greynox to the Sea series), a charming, whimsical romance set in a kind of fantasy/AU Victorian England where dragons pull carriages, imps, chatty ghosts, and winged people live side-by side and magic is a part of everyday life. Although it’s the second book in the series, it works perfectly well as a standalone – and I liked it sufficiently to want to backtrack and listen to book one, Treasure.

When the story begins, Oliver Webb has left the colourless, grime-filled streets of the city of Greynox, where he’s lived his entire life, to settle in the small fishing village of Croftwell , planning to live at Farview Cottage, a property that’s been in his family for generations and which he’s inherited from the mother who died when he was a child. Tired from the long journey, he ventures into one of the village taverns, The Merman, for a drink and a meal, and is somewhat surprised – and maybe a teeny bit irritated – at the friendliness of the locals; he’s not in Croftwell to make friends and he just wants to be left to his own devices. But not long after he sits down, he’s approached by a cheerful (and very attractive) young man called Felix who offers to tell him a story in return for a pint. Intrigued despite himself, Oliver agrees, and Felix tells him the ages old tale of Farview Cottage and the legendary Lyra Moon. Oliver finds himself completely caught up in the story and maybe just a little bit captivated by the storyteller.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Sink or Swim (Shore Leave #2) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux & Joel leslie

sink or swim

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Winning and losing are subject to sexy interpretation….

Navy Chief Calder Euler loves to win big. His latest score? A remote mountain cabin. Checking it out is supposed to be a quick trip, but Calder’s luck abruptly turns when a freak injury and a freakier snowstorm leave him stranded.

Oh, and the cabin isn’t empty. A silver fox caring for two young girls claims that the property is his, but Calder’s paperwork says otherwise.

Felix Sigurd is on a losing streak, and his ex-husband risking the cabin in a reckless bet is only the latest in a series of misfortunes. He’ll tolerate the handsome stranger for a couple nights – even care for his injuries – but that’s it.

Calder doesn’t know a damn thing about kids, but making pancakes for Felix’s girls is a surprising delight. Trapped in the cabin, the four of them slip easily into the rhythms of a family. But when the ice melts, they’ll have to decide if a future together is in the cards.  

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B+

Sink or Swim is the second in Annabeth Albert’s Shore Leave series, but you can easily jump in here without having read or listened to book one, Sailor Proof, as the stories are completely separate. The lead characters here are Naval Chief Calder Euler – brother of Arthur from the previous book – and a silver-fox doctor who is also a single parent to two little girls. It’s a fairly low-angst story featuring two attractive and strongly-characterised leads in which the conflict is low-key but organic, arising from who these two people are and their respective situations in life.

Calder is currently on desk duty at the base following a head injury which resulted in a concussion, and he’s itching to get back to active duty on his submarine. When we met him in Sailor Proof, he came across as overbearing, cocky and insensitive and, like almost everyone else in his large family, he’s highly competitive – which is how come, at the beginning of the book, he’s driving to Mount Rainier to check out the cabin he won from a guy in a poker game. A weekend getaway, somewhere to kick back with friends – and best of all, away from his accommodation in the barracks… yep, it could be an great “bro hangout”. He’s having a look around upstairs when he hears noises outside; he’s on the way down the stairs when the front door bursts open and he hears a scream just before he trips and falls the rest of the way down. The little girl in the doorway is quickly followed by a furious man:

“Who the hell are you and what are you doing in my cabin?”

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

 

Voyageurs by Keira Andrews (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

voyageurs

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Two men battle the wilderness – and desire.

It’s 1793, and Simon Cavendish needs to get to his station at Fort Charlotte, a fur-trading outpost in the untamed Canadian wild. The fort is only accessible by canoe, and there’s just one man daring enough to take him on the perilous, thousand-mile journey from Montreal this late in the summer.

Young Christian Smith, the son of an Ojibwe mother and absent English father, is desperate for money to strike out on his own, so he agrees to take clueless Simon deep into the wild. As they travel endless lakes and rivers, they butt heads.

Yet the attraction between Simon and Christian, two men from vastly different worlds, grows ever stronger. Locked in a battle against the wilderness and elements, how long can they fight their desire for each other?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B-

I suppose saying “it was too short” is a form of praise – right? I recently reviewed another novella by Keira Andrews – Arctic Fire – and said exactly that; I enjoyed it and would have loved to have listened to a longer story featuring those characters. The same is true of Voyageurs, an historical romance which is more of a short story than a novella, coming in at just over ninety minutes in audio. I don’t often review ultra-short audiobooks like this one, but Keira Andrews has become a favourite author and with Joel Leslie narrating… Pfft. No brainer.

It’s July 1793, and Simon Cavendish, formerly of the East India Company, has arrived – a month late owing to bad weather and a ship in need of repairs – at the offices of the North West Company in Montréal, from where he is to travel to take up a post at Fort Charlotte, a thousand miles away. Simon is eager to take up his new position, but unfortunately, the delay in his arrival means that the party of voyageurs (young men hired to transport goods to trading posts) he was to have joined for the journey had to leave without him. Simon is disappointed to learn that he will have to wait until next spring to travel safely – and jumps on the idea of maybe travelling with just one or two voyageurs if they can be found and persuaded to make the trip.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Merry Measure by Lily Morton (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

merry measure

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Arlo Wright’s introduction to his sexuality came when he saw his older brother’s best friend, Jack Cooper, in his sweaty football kit. Unfortunately, he didn’t have long to enjoy the revelation because he promptly knocked himself out on a table.

Relations between them have never really moved on from that auspicious beginning. Arlo is still clumsy, and Jack is still as handsome and unobtainable as ever. However, things look like they’re starting to change when Arlo finds himself sharing a room with Jack while on holiday in Amsterdam at Christmas.

Will the festive spirit finally move them towards each other, or is Arlo just banging his head against a wall this time?

Rating: Narration – A; Content- B+

A sweet, fluffy and charming romance between an accident-prone primary school teacher and his brother’s best friend, Merry Measure was one of my favourite Christmassy romances of last year, so I was delighted to see it make its way into audio just in time for the festive season this year. Fans of the author will know what I mean when I say it’s typical Lily Morton: funny, snarky and sexy with endearing leads, fun secondary characters and well-written familial relationships and friendships. Coming in at somewhere under six hours, it’s a relatively short listen, but it nonetheless manages to provide just the right amount of feel-good vibes and festive cheer – and with the supremely talented Joel Leslie at the microphone, you know you can just kick back and enjoy the show!

Arlo Wright just about makes it to the airport in time to catch his flight to Amsterdam, where he’s to join his brother Tom, Tom’s boyfriend, Bee, and a couple of other friends for a pre-Christmas jaunt to the city to celebrate Tom and Bee’s engagement. Although Tom has yet to propose; he’s hoping for the perfect moment while they’re on the trip. Arlo hates flying, so he was extremely relieved when Tom’s best friend Jack Cooper (on whom Arlo once had a massive crush) offered to travel with him.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Spare by Miranda Dubner (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

The Spare

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

“I’m publicly bisexual now, I’ll make all the musical theatre references I please. I’ll belt Cole Porter songs prancing on top of this bar if I want to.” (His Royal Highness Prince Edward Nicholas William Desmond, second son of Her Majesty Queen Victoria II of England and the Commonwealth)

Eddie Kensington had certain responsibilities, up until two weeks ago. Dress well, smile in public, uphold the family honor. Be straight. Never talk about being bisexual, or being in love with his bodyguard, Isaac Cole, for nearly 10 years. Protecting his mother and siblings from yet more tabloid scandal in the wake of his parents’ high-profile divorce was always more important. 

Up until two weeks ago, when he was outed by the press. Now he’s in the midst of an unscheduled identity crisis, and his entire family seems to be joining in. His estranged father shows up. His sister flirts with the reporter hired to write their grandmother’s biography. His older brother is more reluctant than ever to take up public-facing duties, and Her Majesty is considering going out on a date. Keeping calm and carrying on becomes impossible when Eddie learns Isaac might return his decidedly inconvenient feelings. 

For any one of them to steal a happily ever after, the Kensingtons will have to decide what they really hold dear–the legacy they were born into, or the dreams they kept for themselves.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content- B+

The Spare is an entertaining mix of romance and sweeping family drama set in an AU in which Queen Victoria II sits upon the British throne – the first ever divorced monarch – and which features multiple storylines for her and her three children, Arthur, Prince of Wales, Edward (the titular “Spare”) and Alexandra. I read the book last year and enjoyed it, but although it contains one primary romance that reaches its HEA and other romantic threads throughout, I’d suggest anyone contemplating listening to this – and it’s well worth a listen – should think Downton Abbey rather than His Royal SecretThe book blurb is somewhat misleading in this respect.

When the novel begins, HRH Edward Nicholas William Desmond Kensington, second son of Queen Victoria II, is making his first public appearance in the UK since he was publicly outed when old photographs – taken while he was at university – of him cuddled up to another man were splashed across the UK tabloids. His family is aware of his bisexuality, but he’s kept it under wraps everywhere else mostly for their sake; his mother’s divorce some years before mired them all in enough scandal to last a lifetime, and Eddie was hoping he’d be able to pick his own moment to make an announcement. But it was not to be and now the fallout has to be dealt with.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

My 2020 in Books & Audio

2020, huh? I don’t think I need to expound on that particular dumpster fire except to say that I feel lucky to be someone who has managed to read/listen to books pretty much as normal throughout it all. Books – and writing about them – have provided a much-needed escape from everything going on “out there”, and there have been times this past year when I don’t know what I’d have done without them.

So, what was I reading/listening to in 2020? Well, according to Goodreads (which shows an average rating of 4.1 stars overall), I read and listened to 269 books in total (which was 30 fewer than 2019) – although I suspect that number may be slightly higher as I sometimes forget to mark any re-listens I do. But just taking the new reads/listens, I listened to almost as many books as I read – 52.9% ebook and 47.1% audio, according to this new spreadsheet I’ve been using, and almost three-quarters of the total were review copies.

Of that total there are 77 5 star books, 152 4 star books – by far the biggest category – 36 3 star books and 6 2 star books. (Books sorted by rating.)

The 5 star bracket includes those titles I rate at 4.5 but round-up (which I equate to A-); the 4 star bracket (B) includes the 4.5 star grades I don’t round up (B+) and the 3.5 star ones I do round up (B-), the 3 stars are C+/C/C- and so on.  Of the 77 5 star ratings, only around 17 are straight A grades in terms of the story (in the case of audiobooks, sometimes a 4 star review will get bumped up because the narration is so fabulous), so the rest of that 77 are A minuses or audiobooks where A and B grades combined to rate a higher overall total. Looking back at my 2019 Books & Audio post, those numbers are fairly consistent, although I didn’t have any one stars or DNFs in 2020, which isn’t a bad thing!

The books that made my Best of 2020 list at All About Romance:

Reviews are linked in the text beneath each image.

As usually happens, I always have a few “also-rans”, books I could have included if I’d had the space:

If you follow my reviews, you’ll already know that in 2020, I awarded more top grades than ever to a single author, which isn’t something that’s ever happened before; sure, I give high grades to some authors consistently (Sherry Thomas, KJ Charles and Meredith Duran spring to mind) but those have been one every few months or per year – not nine in a single year! So, yes, 2020 is, in my head, the Year of Gregory Ashe 😉  I could have chosen any number of his books for these lists as they’re all so very good.

Sadly noticeable by its (near) absence on these lists – historical romance.  I said in my 2019 post that the amount of really good historical romance around had been declining for a while, and although there were some excellent  historicals around in 2020, they were fairly few and far between. Many of the best came from Harlequin Historical – Virginia Heath’s Redeeming the Reculsive Earl is a lovely, funny and warm grumpy-reclusive-hero-meets-breath-of-fresh-air-(and neuroatypical) heroine, while Mia Vincy continues to demonstrate her mastery of the genre with A Dangerous Kind of Lady, a sexy, vibrant, not-really friends-to-lovers story in which the leads embark on a difficult journey of self-discovery while coming to realise how badly they’ve misjudged each other. The “modern” historical is a term being coined for novels set in the more recent past, and Asher Glenn Gray’s Honeytrap, the love story between an FBI agent and Red Army office that spans thirty-five years, would proibably have made my Best of list had I read it in time.  Annabeth Albert is a big favourite of mine; Feel the Fire is book three in her Hotshots series, a second-chance romance that just hit the spot.

Audio

When I struggled to read something – which fortuantely, didn’t happen often – I could usually find something in audio that suited my mood, plus the fact that there are still back-catalogue titles coming out of books I haven’t got around to reading means that audio is always my preferred method of catching up!  I listened to a lot of pretty good stuff over the year, but for my 2020 Favourites for AudioGals, I stuck to titles to which I’d given at least ONE A grade (usually for the narration) and nothing lower than a B+.

So that was 2020 in books and audio.  I’m incredibly grateful to those authors and narrators who continued to provide me with such great reading/listening material through what has been an incredibly trying time for all of us;  I know some who have really struggled to get words on a page this year, and I just want to say that you’re worth waiting for and I’ll be here whenever you’re ready.

As for what I’m looking forward to in 2021… more of the same, really – lots of good books!  There are a number of titles I know are coming up in the first part of the year that I’m really excited about – the third Lamb and the Lion book from Gregory Ashe – The Same End – is out at the end of January, and I’m also eagerly awaiting new adventures with North and Shaw and Theo and Auggie. Then there’s book three in KJ Charles’ Will Darling Adventures, Subtle Blood, at least three (squee!) new books from Annabeth Albert, including the fourth Hotshots book; and a new instalment in Jordan Castillo Price’s long-running Psycop series (Other Half) due out in January, although I’ll be waiting for the audio because Gomez Pugh’s incredible turn as Victor Bayne is well worth waiting for.  (I really must catch up with JCP’s ABCs of Spellcraft books, in audio, too!).  There’s a new book in Hailey Turner’s  Soulbound series coming soon, a new instalment in Jay Hogan’s Southern Lights series, and later on, I’m hoping Josh Lanyon’s The Movie Town Murders will be out this year – I need more Sam and Jason! – and I’m looking forward to new books in her Secrets and Scrabble series.  I’m looking forward to more from Lucy Parker, Loreth Anne White, Garrett Leigh, Rachel Reid, Roan Parrish… There are new books slated from many of my favourite authors and narrators, and I’m looking forward to another year of great reading and listening.

I’ll be back this time next year to see if my expectations were fulfilled!

The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings (Black & Blue #1) by Lily Morton (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Levi Black is at a crossroads. After suffering a loss and breaking up a long-term relationship, he’s looking for a change. When he receives the news he’s inherited a house in York, he seizes the opportunity to begin a new chapter in his life.

However, when he gets there, he finds a house that has never kept its occupants for very long. Either through death or disinclination, no one stays there, and after a few days of living in the place, Levi can understand why. Strange noises can be heard at all hours of the day and night, and disturbing and scary things begin to happen to him. He never believed in ghosts before, but when events take a sinister turn, he knows he must look for help. He finds it in the unlikely form of the blue-haired leader of a ghost tour.

Blue Billings is edgy, beautiful, and lost. Utterly lost. He conceals so many secrets that some days it’s a miracle he remembers his own name. He knows that he should ignore Levi because he threatens the tenuous grip Blue has on survival. But there’s something about the kind-eyed man that draws Blue to him. Something that demands he stay and fight for him when he would normally run in the opposite direction.

As the two men investigate the shocking truth behind Levi’s house, they also discover a deep connection that defies the short length of time they’ve known each other. But when events escalate and his life is on the line, Levi has to wonder if it was wise to trust the mysterious and amazing Blue Billings.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

Author Lily Morton branches out into paranormal romance with The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings, a ghost story set in York, which is often called one of the most haunted towns in Britain. The author’s trademark humour and snark are very much in evidence, the central romance features two engaging characters who come to share a strong emotional connection, and Ms. Morton knows how to bring the spooky, so maybe this isn’t a book to listen to in the dark!

Following the death of his mother and his breakup with his partner of five years, Levi Black relocates from London to York, where he has inherited a house from a distant relative. It’s a beautiful old building in a prime location not far from the Minster, and he falls in love with it straight away (despite the rather odd noises coming from upstairs), determining to fix it up, turn it into a proper home and make a fresh start. His plans to move in have to be put on hold however, because the house is in a worse state than he’d realised, so he moves into a hotel for the six months while the workmen make the house habitable again.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.