The Spooky Life (Spectral Files #4) by S.E. Harmon (Audiobook) – Narrated by Kirt Graves

the spooky life

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Rain Christiansen isn’t sure he’ll ever fully understand the supernatural. But he’s finally finding his groove as a reluctant medium and cold-case detective. That’s not to say everything is going smoothly—there’s a wedding in the works, after all. He’s finally taking that enormous step with fellow detective, Daniel McKenna, and he couldn’t be happier . . . about the marriage. Not so much the wedding. The hoopla is enough to make him wish for a quick flight to Vegas and an Elvis officiant.

At least work is keeping Rain and the PTU plenty busy. Their latest case involves Hannah Caldwell, a silent ghost who can’t—or won’t—speak. She still manages to request that they find her dear friend, Cherry Parker, so that she can say goodbye. Piece of cake. Finding people is pretty high on the list of things that Rain does best.

But when it comes to ghosts, nothing is ever quite what it seems. Before long, his simple missing person’s case takes a dark and twisted turn. And Rain realizes he’s been so busy trying to protect Danny that he forgot to protect himself.

If he doesn’t turn things around—and quickly—his spooky life might be cut short for good.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – C+

When we last saw Detectives Rain Christiansen and Danny McKenna – at the end of Spooky Business – they’d narrowly survived being murdered by a vengeful ghost, and just got engaged. When we encounter them again here, they’re well into planning their wedding… or rather, Danny’s mother is well into planning it and is insisting on dragging the two of them (kicking and screaming metaphorically at least) into it as well. Like the other books in the Spectral Files series, The Spooky Life combines a supernatural mystery with the ongoing development of the central relationship, but although Rain’s snarky voice is as entertaining as ever, the mystery feels a bit thin and the whole wedding-planning-thing seems, at times, to have taken over. That trope – the everyone-else-wants-to-plan-our-wedding one – is one I have little patience with; not only do I not understand why people spend a fortune on weddings, I don’t understand why two grown men in their late thirties can’t – politely – tell everyone to just butt out and let them do it their way.

Rain is on a visit to a possible wedding venue with Mrs. McKenna and quietly wishing the ground would open and swallow him up, when he notices a woman walking around under a decorative arch, a lonely ghost who seems to be in a world of her own. Managing to escape from his prospective mother-in-law and the very eager venue manager, Rain makes his way over to the spirit and introduces himself; to his surprise she doesn’t speak – usually the ghosts who find Rain won’t shut up – so he thinks that perhaps she’s ready to move on but is stuck for some reason and decides to help her to do so. When that doesn’t work, Rain realises that perhaps she can’t move on because of unfinished business and wants him to go somewhere. Sigh.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.


Note:  This is the second book in a row I’ve listened to by this author in which she has put a “disclaimer” in her author’s note (in the ebook version) to the effect that she’s not responsible for plot holes:

“Plot holes? Perhaps. Despite the best efforts of my beta readers, my editor, and myself, there are probably a few errors that we didn’t catch. It happens.”

Um… no. Typos can get through even the best proof readers, we know that.  But STORY CONTENT is the province of the author and it’s up to them to – in collaboration with their editor where warranted – work through any content issues so that the story proceeds smoothly.  Apologising in advance because you couldn’t be bothered to fix the plot holes you’ve created for yourself is disrespectful to your readers and lazy writing.  I’m on the fence about whether I’ll bother picking up another book by this author.

Face Blind (Glastonbury Tales #1) by J.L. Merrow

face blind

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When even friends look like strangers, how will he ever find love?

Corin Ferriman was left face blind by the car crash that killed his ex. Even people he’s known for years are unrecognisable to him. Running from his guilt and new-found social anxiety, he’s moved to Glastonbury, where he knows no one—or does he? Repeated sightings of a mysterious figure leave him terrified that his ghosts have followed him.

Tattoo artist Adam Merchant left Glastonbury at sixteen, escaping from his emotionally distant mother to the father who’d left them seven years previously. Now, at twenty-five, he’s come home to bring his family back together. But in a cruel twist of fate, his mother dies before he can talk to her, leaving him haunted—perhaps literally—by her memory and his unanswered questions.

When Corin and Adam meet again after an eerie first encounter, Adam lays siege to the walls Corin’s built around himself, which start to crumble. But there are ghosts haunting them both, and while Adam longs for a connection beyond the veil, Corin’s guilt leaves him in angry denial that there could be anything after death. With the liminal festival of Samhain fast approaching, neither man is sure what’s real and what’s just a trick of the mind—or maybe something worse.

Rating: B

J.L. Merrow’s Face Blind is an atmospheric tale featuring two men who are trying to come to terms with and move on from traumatic events in their pasts. Add in family secrets, some gentle humour, a little bit of mystery and touch of the paranormal, and you’ve got an interesting and entertaining romance.

Adam Merchant left home when he was sixteen, leaving behind his much older sister and the mother who never seemed to care about him, and went to live with his dad in London. He only moved back to Glastonbury a month before the story opens, taking a job at a local tattoo parlor. He came back intending to try to build some bridges with his mum – even though she never seemed to want to see him on the rare occasions he visited anyway – but she’s recently passed away. Adam was surprised to learn that she’d left him her house – the one he’d grown up in – in the will, and can’t help but think maybe it was because of a guilty conscience. He’ll never know.

A serious car accident around six months earlier has left Corin Ferriman with prosopagnosia, a condition that means he is unable to recognise people’s faces. Struggling with survivor’s guilt (his ex, who was driving the car, was killed) as well as the disorienting effects of not even being able to recognise his own face in a mirror, Corin can’t face the alternately pitying and disbelieving reactions of his acquaintances and colleagues and decides he needs to make a fresh start somewhere nobody knows him. On his first night in his new place in Glastonbury, Corin decides to celebrate his move with a takeaway and, even though it’s drizzling, heads out for a walk on the famous Tor first.

He’s part-way to St. Michael’s Tower when he sees another man, bedraggled and wearing a leather jacket, his dark hair plastered to his head, on the path ahead of him. The man appears slightly panicked as he asks Corin if he’s seen the older woman in the dark coat; and then subsides as he mumbles something about his mind playing tricks and goes on his way.

Corin is walking in town a few days later and, as he passes one of the many tattoo studios in the high street, is struck by the idea of getting inked himself. Something small and discreet might be a good idea as it would provide a defining feature for him to latch on to when he’s looking at his reflection. He steps inside the nearest shop – and is introduced to one of the artists, a dark-haired young man who smiles at Corin and starts apologising to him. Something about his voice sounds vaguely familiar, and when the man – Adam – says that he doesn’t normally go around seeing ghosts, the penny drops. It’s the guy he met on the Tor.

Adam is just a bit disappointed at the thought he’s so unmemorable, but he lets it go and sets about talking through what Corin wants and what to expect, and makes an appointment for a couple of week’s time. Adam can’t help hoping that maybe they’ll bump into each other again sooner.

There’s a definite spark of attraction between Adam and Corin, but Corin can’t see how he can ever have a relationship when everyone looks like a stranger. At first, Adam just thinks Corin is a bit skittish because of how they first met – after all, he’d probably be a bit wary of someone who thought they’d seen a ghost! But when, the next time they meet – and the time after that – Corin looks at him like he’s never seen him before, Adam can’t help feeling a bit hurt.

Corin knows exactly what Adam must be feeling, but he can’t bring himself to explain. It’s still too raw and so difficult to get his own head around sometimes, that he just doesn’t want to get into it – or to watch Adam’s expression turn from one of interest to one of pity or dismissiveness. Fortunately, however, Adam is a bright bloke, and after the fourth or fifth time of Corin looking at him like he’s a total stranger, he starts to wonder if maybe he has some kind of visial impairment, and from then on, makes a point of greeting Corin by speaking to him and identifying himself by name. I really liked that about Adam, that he’s intuitive enough to realise that it’s not all about him and subtly figures out how to help without needing to be asked. And when Corin does tell him the truth, he takes it in his stride and listens rather than making assumptions.

I don’t have any experience of prosopagnosia or know anyone who has it, but it seems to me that the author has done a good job when it comes to describing the condition and the way it affects Corin, both physically and emotionally. What were previously simple, everyday things have become difficult or even daunting, whether it’s being unsure of who is on the other side of the front door after opening it, or keeping track of who is who in a film or TV show.

The romance between these two damaged men is sweet, if a little unevenly paced, and the storyline concerning Adam’s search for the truth about his past is intriguing. Without spelling it out, the author drops some very big hints as to the reasons for the estrangement between Adam and his mother – but of course, the reader knows only what Adam knows, so the twist comes as as much of a surprise to him as it does to us!

Also enjoyable is the well-rounded secondary cast – Adam’s boss, Sasha, his brother Declan and best friend Scratchy; these people obviously care and look out for one another and their relationships with each other and the two leads are believable and a lot of fun.

The one thing that didn’t work so well for me was the supernatural aspect of the story. I suppose setting a book in Glastonbury in late October cries out for some paranormal shenanigans, but what with the romance, Corin still working on his coping strategies and struggling with his newly-emerged social anxiety, Adam repairing his relationship with his sister and trying to find the truth about his past, there’s already so much going on that the ghostly aspect is patchy and not well developed.

Those reservations aside however, Face Blind is one of the more unusual romances I’ve read recently, and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a love story that’s slightly out of the ordinary.

Stone Wings (Gargoyles of Arrington #1) by Jenn Burke

stone wings

This title may be purchased from Amazon

His curse can only be lifted with true love, but can true love come from a fake date?

Being the personal assistant to a trio of cursed gargoyle brothers who sleep for a hundred years and wake up for twenty-five wasn’t a career proposed by Josh’s high school guidance counselor, but it’s a job that he’s eminently suited for. Not to mention a job his family has been doing for generations. The brothers are truly excellent bosses, but Josh is surprised when Drew offers to pretend to be his date for his high school reunion. And even more surprised by a supposedly fake kiss that feels as real as a kiss can get

Drew and his brothers owe Josh and his family for watching over them each time they turn to stone for a hundred years, and for helping them reintegrate into the world when they wake up. The least he can do is pose as Josh’s boyfriend for a night. Even though true love can break his curse, he knows he won’t find it with Josh. Nothing that real can come from a lie. Or can it?

When the fake boyfriend situation stretches into two nights, and then more, Josh and Drew can’t fight the attraction blazing between them. There’s no harm in exploring it, right? No expectations. But when paranormal danger comes to Arrington, Josh and Drew are going to have to battle for every moment of peace…and maybe a real happily ever after too.

Rating: C+

Stone Wings is the first book in Jenn Burke’s new series of paranormal romances, The Gargoyles of Arrington, and introduces readers to the three O’Reilly brothers – Teague, Drew and Rian – who, thanks to a centuries-old witch’s curse – are condemned to live ‘in flesh’ for only twenty-five years at a time, after which they return to stone for a hundred years, until they re-awaken and go through the cycle all over again. There is only one way to break the curse, which is – in the best romantic tradition – to find true love; their eldest brother Finnian managed to break his curse at the end of their last lifetime (in 1899), but with only two years to go until their next sleep, the remaining three brothers are not too sanguine about their chances.

I really liked the premise of this story, which also features a suspense plot that begins when a new pride of mountain lion shifters arrives in the area and immediately lays claim to the O’Reilly’s territory, and while there’s an HEA for the book’s central couple, that plotline is clearly going to continue throughout the series. That, together with Rian’s search for a way to break the curse is the most compelling part of the story, because the romance is, sadly, a bit lacklustre, and the two leads are a bit bland.

After the O’Reillys saved Josh Pallesen’s great-great-great-ad-infinutum grandparents from a sinking ship, members of the Pallesen family have acted as the gargoyles’ caretakers and guardians, watching over them while they’re in their stone form and on hand to help them when they’re awake. Josh took over that job from his father and acts as a kind of personal assitant and general factorum to them all, looking after their home and helping with their businesses. In this ‘lifetime’, Teague is a cop, Rian is a tattoo artist, and Drew is a mechanic, running a successful business restoring and servicing classic cars. When the story begins, Josh has just received an invitation to his ten-year high school reunion, and is debating whether or not he wants to go. High school wasn’t a great time for him, and was made even worse when his long-term boyfriend Brandon dumped him on Prom night after telling Josh he wasn’t ambitious enough. So part of him wants to opt out and part of him wants to show that he’s doing well and stick it to all the assholes he’d grown up with. When he tells Drew about the invite and his reservations, Drew offers to be his date for the evening.

On the night itself, things are going fairly well when Josh’s prick of an ex- turns up – with a husband in tow. The husband – Arie – turns out to be lovely, the prick… well, he’s still a prick, just an even bigger one. Drew and Josh’s one fake date turns into two when Arie invites them to dinner with him and Brandon – who gets very drunk and comes on to Josh. Needless to say, Drew is not amused. When Josh’s mother finds out Josh and Drew are ‘dating’, to Josh’s surprise, she encourages their relationship. He’d expected a lecture about not letting himself get hurt; instead she says that even if Josh isn’t The One for Drew (neither of them believes he is), and as it’s going to hurt, regardless of their relationship status when the time comes for Drew to return to stone, perhaps they should simply enjoy spending time together while they can. Josh and Drew are quick to see the wisdom of those words.

Fake dating turns immediately to friends-with-benefits, but too little time is spent on developing the romance or the characters; Josh and Drew are pretty colourless and there’s little romantic or sexual chemistry between them. In the Plus column, the overall concept behind the series is inventive and the plot involving the witch and the shifter gang is intriguing – it’s this aspect of the story that I found most compelling and is likely to encourage me to continue with the series.

Stone Wings is an easy, fast read and I enjoyed it, even though the romance was disappointing. I liked enough about the plot and storytelling to continue with the series – the final chapter of this book sets up Rian’s story and I have my suspicious as to whom Teague is going to end up with – but on the basis of this one, I’ll be lowering my expectations for those romances a bit and focusing on the plot.

Pack of Lies (Monster Hunt #1) by Charlie Adhara

pack of lies

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Werewolf meets human. Werewolf snubs human. Werewolf loves human?

Julien Doran arrived in sleepy Maudit Falls, North Carolina, with a heart full of hurt and a head full of questions. The key to his brother’s mysterious last days might be found in this tiny town, and now Julien’s amateur investigation is starting to unearth things the locals would rather keep buried.

Perhaps most especially the strange, magnetic manager of a deserted retreat that’s nearly as odd as its staff.

Eli Smith is a lot of things: thief, werewolf, glamour-puss, liar. And now the manager of a haven for rebel pack runaways. He’s spent years cultivating a persona to disguise his origins, but for the first time ever he’s been entrusted with a real responsibility—and he plans to take that seriously.

Even if the handsome tourist who claims to be in town for some R & R is clearly on a hunt for all things paranormal. And hasn’t taken his brooding gaze off Eli since he’s arrived.

When an old skeleton and a fresh corpse turn a grief errand into a murder investigation, the unlikely Eli is the only person Julien can turn to. Trust is hard to come by in a town known for its monsters, but so is time…

Rating: A

Charlie Adhara’s paranormal/romantic suspense Big Bad Wolf series is one of my all-time favourites. With clever plotting, excellent worldbuilding, fantastic characterisation and a beautifully developed central relationship, those books had it all, and were always going to be a tough act to follow. I was delighted when I learned the author would be writing more books set in this world and that we’d get to spend more time with the snarky, enigmatic Elias Smith – a major secondary character in the earlier series. Eli was introduced in Thrown to the Wolves, where we learned he’d had a very troubled past, running with rebel packs who used and betrayed him until he was rescued and taken in by the Parks. He’s my book catnip – complex, flawed and damaged with a sharp tongue and an attitude for miles.

While this is the first in a new series, I really would recommend reading the previous books first so as to gain an understanding of how this world works; pack politics and how wolves interact (or don’t) with humans are key elements in these stories, and you’ll get a bit of background information on Eli. Plus – they’re marvellous reads and I assure you, you won’t regret backtracking!

Pack of Lies opens just a couple of weeks so after the end of Cry Wolf. Cooper and Park are on their honeymoon and Eli has recently moved to the retreat for runaways they’ve set up in remote Maudit Falls, which they’ve asked him to run. Late one night, Eli makes his way downstairs to the reception desk to find a very bedraggled man crawling around beneath it. Annoyed and suspiciouis, he suggests perhaps his interloper is a housebreaker, but before the man can do more than indignantly contradict him and explain that he’d had an accident a way back along the road, furious knocking at the door heralds the arrival of a woman dripping with blood and frantically insisting she’s seen the monster – she’s seen Sweet Pea, and this time, she’s got proof.

Once the chief of police shows up, Annabelle Dunlop, owner of the ski resort on the other side of the mountain, explains how she’d hurt herself running through the woods and then shows them some very grainy images taken from wildlife cameras that she insists show a figure that is not human. Chief Bucknell is sceptical and says he doesn’t really see much of anything, but Eli immediately recognises part of the image as a wolf in mid-shift. He has no idea who it is or what they might be doing there, but every wolf has a responsibility to maintain the secret of their existence – and clearly, there’s someone out there who isn’t being as careful as they should be. When everyone has left, Eli’s new medic tells him they’ve got their first guest, a young woman named Gwen who has left her rebel pack in search of sanctuary. When Gwen tells Eli that she, too, had felt an ominous presence in the woods and had run from it, Eli realises something is very wrong. Wolves are being hunted, their very existence threatened with exposure – and he decides to get to the bottom of it.

Mid-list Hollywood star Juilen Doran is grieving the loss of his younger brother Rocky, who drowned some fourteen months earlier. At the suggestion of his therapist, Julien goes into Rocky’s childhood bedroom – one they’d shared for a few years – which is where, tucked away in an old hidey-hole only the two of them had known about, Julien finds a flash drive, a notebook and a crudely drawn map of somewhere called Maudit Falls. His brother was forever off on some wild goose chase or other, convinced of the existence of all manner of cryptids and mythical beasts – Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, Nessie – and Sweet Pea, a bipedal creature reported to inhabit Blue Tail Mountain, and Julien frequently had to bail him out of trouble. He tried, repeatedly to get Rocky to see sense, but those conversations always ended in an argument. Three days after their last one, Rocky was dead. He’d taken a boat out on a perfectly clear night and never returned; there was no storm that night, the boat wasn’t damaged, and there was no real way of determining exactly how he died. After finding the notebook and map, Julien isn’t so sure his brother’s death was an accident so, filled with guilt and self-recrimination, Julien turns his back on everything – his career, his family (such as it is) and even his common sense – to follow the trail Rocky has left for him.

Eli and Julien’s shared goal of finding out exactly what is going on in Maudit Falls isn’t the only thing that draws them together, but getting to the truth is more important than an inconvenient attraction to someone they can’t afford to trust. When murder comes to their doorstep along with rumours of hidden treasure and more late-night creature sightings, they form a wary alliance – but as the secrets they’re keeping threaten to destroy their fragile connection, Eli and Julien are going to have to find a way to work together if they’re going to stand a chance of survival.

Pack of Lies is a compelling combination of clever, intricate mystery and expertly crafted slow-burn romance, and I was glued to it from start to finish. Eli and Julien are fascinating, layered characters who circle around each other amid half-truths and lies-by-omission, who yet manage to be likeable and evoke sympathy and understanding. I’ve been intrigued by Eli since his appearances in the earlier series (I said in my reivew of Cry Wolf that he was “crying out” for his own story!); his snarky, prickly demeanour obviously hides a deep vulnerability, and despite his appearance of casual confidence, he worries about being the right person for the job at the retreat and about letting Cooper and Park down. Life has been far from easy for him, and although we learn more of his history here, there’s clearly more to be revealed.

Unlike the Big Bad Wolf series though, Pack of Lies is written in dual PoV, so we get to hear from Julien also, and while Charlie Adhara is one of those authors who can make a single PoV work spectacularly well, I really appreciated that. I liked Julien and enjoyed the way he so clearly cares for Eli and Eli’s feelings – and that he doesn’t hesitate when he decides to go for it with Eli. Julien has always known he’s bisexual, but has never had the opportunity to act on his attraction to men; what he’s really worried about is letting his inexperience show and not Doing It Right – but Eli soon assures him he doesn’t need to worry on that score! Their chemistry is fantastic, and the love scenes are intense and very steamy, with Julian letting out his inner dirty-talker and Eli prepared to let Julien take control.

The book ends with a firm HFN for Eli and Julien, which feels exactly right; a full-blown HEA would have felt inappropriate and I’m happy with the way things are left – with with promise of more.

Pack of Lies is a wonderful blend of mystery, romance, action and intrigue and is a superb start to this new series. I can’t wait to find out what’s in store for Eli and Julien next!

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.

Fractured Souls (Fallen Messengers #1) by Ava Marie Salinger (audiobook) – Narrated by Alex Kydd

fractured souls

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When Cassius Black moves to San Francisco for a fresh start, the angel’s hopes of staying below the radar of the supernatural organizations that oversee the otherworldly and magic users in the city are dashed when he stumbles across a dead body in the sewers. His grim discovery soon puts him in the sights of the Argonaut Agency and Francis Strickland, the bureau director who knows his darkest secrets.

Morgan King and his team of Argonaut agents have been on the hunt all summer for the culprits behind a series of gruesome killings that have rocked the city. Killings that bear sinister hallmarks of human sacrificial rituals where the victims’ souls have been stolen. When Fate puts Cassius in Morgan’s path, he realizes the angel everyone likes to call The Devil may very well be the only person who can help them track down the murderers.

Morgan and Cassius soon find themselves crossing paths with a mysterious warlock whose actions evoke disturbing echoes of an incident from Cassius’s past. Cassius and Morgan must work together to defeat their common enemy and save the city from destruction, all while fighting their growing attraction.

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – B

Fractured Soulsis the first book in Ava Marie Salinger’s Fallen Messengers urban fantasy series in which angels and demons fell to Earth some five hundred years ago. The world the author has created is fascinating, the worldbuilding is really good, and the plot is fast-paced and action packed, but the storytelling is hampered by the introduction of too many characters at once (making it hard to keep track of who is who and who they all work for), and the romance is underdeveloped.

Like all the Fallen, Cassius Black, the most feared angel of them all, has no idea of who he was before. For years, he’s been doing his best to live under the radar and avoid interaction with the various magical and supernatural organisations that have been nothing but trouble for him in the past. Recently re-located from London to San Francisco, Cassius has taken on the job of looking for a missing cat and finds much more than he bargained for when he stumbles across said cat – a demon cat – down in the sewers, hiding from a huge Lucifugous demon that’s snacking on some human remains. After dispatching the demon, Cassius is able to see the disturbing signs of some sort of black magic ritual involving the dead man – clearly the Lucifugous didn’t kill the human. But if he didn’t – who did?

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Vortex Conundrum (Ghostly Guardians #2) by Louisa Masters

vortex conundrum

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Wanted: one demon hunter. Beware the matchmaking ghosts.

After years managing a haunted hotel and estate, I thought things were good. Sure, the ghosts can be a handful—nosy, opinionated, interfering—but they’re also friendly and fun. We have a system. Everything was under control.

Cue hysterical laughter.

But after a minor blip with a demon in the basement and a vortex to the spirit world, the ghosts swear they have no more secrets. The danger is gone, and we’ve done everything we can to make the vortex safe. It should be fine. Nothing’s come through it for fifty years.

It’s never that easy at Mannix Estate.

Lucky for us, the demon expert we met online is willing and able to help us out. I’m so grateful, I’d willingly kiss his feet. Until he arrives and opens his mouth.

Connor is… a jerk. But he’s a sexy jerk who’s doing us a favor, so I’m going to be polite no matter what. Even when he makes me mad. When he flirts hard. When the roof falls in and we have to share a bed. When we realize the vortex upstairs is just the beginning.

Suddenly, Connor’s real strengths shine. Beneath the smoking hot yet annoying surface is a heart of gold, and I don’t think I can hold out against it… or that I want to.

Rating: C

Vortex Conundrum, the second book in Louisa Masters’ Ghostly Guardians series, picks up a few months after the events of Spirited Situation, and I really would advise reading that first if you plan on reading this one. It’s an easy read, but it’s very insubstantial in terms of both plot and characterisation.

Please note that this review contains spoilers for the previous book.

The Ghostly Guardians series takes place at the Mannix Estate in Illinois, an old country house that is now a museum and re-enactment centre that is reportedly “haunted as fuck”. In Spirited Situation, we learned that the friendly ghosts who live there have been guarding a kind of portal – they call it a vortex – to the ‘otherworld’ (where all the nasty spirits and demons come from) for the last fifty years, ever since a guest summoned a demon which subsequently killed her. At the end of the book, Josh – a medium and one of the leads in the story – fought and vanquished a soul-eating demon that had found its way through the vortex. The ghosts now keep a round-the-clock watch on the vortex and have done the best they can to stop anything from crossing over; but then Skye, one of the hotel receptionists, is possessed by an unknown entity that clearly managed to make it through.

At a complete loss as to what to do next, Josh makes contact with the guy he’d been in touch with before when they had to fight the soul-eater, someone he’s found on the internet who clearly knows a lot about the supernatural. The guy – Connor – asks a lot of questions and explains to the stunned Mannix crew that he’s a paranormal hunter/troubleshooter. He concludes that Skye is a conduit, someone with a strong connection to the spirit world, and says he’ll be there in a few days to see what he can do.

Something about Connor rubs Kieran, the estate manager, up the wrong way from the moment they meet. Keiran thinks Connor is arrogant and condescending, Connor thinks Kieran is too tightly-wound and can’t resist pushing his buttons. But arrogant or not, Connor clearly knows what he’s doing, expelling the demon he calls a body-hopper from Skye easily and then insisting on being taken to the gateway he’s sensed up in one of the guest rooms. Kieran and Josh realise they can’t keep the vortex a secret any longer; Connor explains to them that while the ghosts have done a decent job of trying to stop anything coming through, they’ve been lucky until now.. The measures they’ve taken aren’t enough to stop it happening again, and there’s no guarantee that whatever comes through next will be as easy to deal with.

So far so good. I liked the author’s explanation of the purpose and workings of the soul, and was intrigued by the idea of The Collective – an organisation dedicated to safeguarding the Earth from the dangers of the otherworld that’s been around for more than a millenuim. The trouble is that it’s all conveyed through lenghty explanations and info-dumps.

As I said in my review of the previous book, the author has an engaging writing style that’s easy to read, the setting is interesting and the characters are likeable – but on the downside, there’s no real depth to them, the romance is superficial and there’s very little plot. Connor being a member of The Collective means he knows just about all there is to know about just about every supernatural entity in existence and how to combat it, so there’s no tension, no finding out stuff alongside the characters and never any real sense of peril. There’s one tiny moment near the end when we find out that Connor is capable of making a mistake, but, eh, blink and you’ll miss it. I also had to do a double take when, in the middle of trying to hold off an unexpectedly powerful demon he has to RUN OUT TO HIS CAR to get something! Dafuq??

Connor and Kieran are likeable but two-dimensional. They’re set up as antagonists, with Kieran bristling over Connor’s bluntness and tendency to say whatever comes into his head, and Connor being deliberately flirtatious to rile him up, but that doesn’t last very long. The romance, though, is nothing we haven’t seen before. Boy meets boy, boy likes pulling other boy’s metaphorical pig-tails, boy gives other boy a handjob for stress relief… it’s all rushed with no relationship development and no sense of why these people are attracted to each other apart from appearance.

I breezed through the book in a few hours, but I spent most of it waiting for something dramatic to happen – and it doesn’t. In a story about ghosts, demons and supernatural entities, I’d have expected some chills and spooky moments, a climactic battle between good and evil and an epic conclusion. There’s none of that here.

Vortex Conundrum is pretty bland, with a lacklustre romance and very little plot. I probably won’t be continuing with the series.

Out of the Ashes (Ashes & Dust #3) by Jenn Burke

out of the ashed

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Some bonds weren’t meant to be broken.

Vampire PI Evan Fournier has dealt with his fair share of danger and heartache, but nothing prepares him for the pain of a broken bond with his mate—especially when his mate is the one who severed it. Bond or no, he still loves Colin—fiercely. Trust, however, is harder to come by. And when a demon starts terrorizing paranormals in Toronto, trust in one another is exactly what they’ll need.

Former firefighter turned crime-fighting phoenix Colin Zhang knows who Evan was—is—to him, but he doesn’t know if he can give him what he wants. He just needs a little time to figure things out. Unfortunately, bringing down a demon bent on mass murder leaves little time for anything else.

The only way they’ll destroy the demon is by teaming up with an unlikely partner to infiltrate a gang of terrorists. But the only way they’ll save themselves is by finding a path back into each other’s arms—and hearts—once again.

Rating: B

Out of the Ashes is the third and final book in Jenn Burke’s Ashes & Dust series of paranormal romances set in and around Toronto, featuring vampire investigator Evan Fournier, his lover Colin Zhang – a phoenix – and their extended family of werewolves, vampires, witches – and a god.  The author does include information about the previous instalments for readers new to the series, but I’d advise reading the books in order so as to fully understand the character backstories and the emotional impact of past events.

Please note that there are spoilers in this review.

At the end of House on Fire, Colin made the decision to break the bond that had accidentally formed between himself and Evan (in All Fired Up).  It was risky, but he’s come through it okay – mostly; while he’s retained his memories and knows who Evan is, he has no emotional attachment to those memories, and Evan can tell that every time Colin looks at him, he sees a virtual stranger.  Understanding why Colin did what he did makes it no less devastating, and Evan is trying desperately to cling to the hope given him by Colin’s confession of love and exhortation to fight for them in the letter he left before he underwent the spell.  But weeks later, and with no indication that anything is changing,  a heartbroken Evan is struggling to keep his depression at bay, wondering how long he’ll be able to keep alive the hope that Colin will come back to him.

At the same time as Evan is trying to come to terms with the fact that the man he loves may never again love him back, the Westerson-Rojas household is reeling from the murder of Hudson’s brother by a demon, and the disappearance of Hudson’s niece Priya, who fears she will be accused of the crime.  And they’re still no nearer to discovering who is responsible for the spate of attacks on members of the paranormal community over the past few months.

Out of the Ashes opens a few weeks after House on Fire ends, and finds Evan and Colin on a maybe-date, joining their friends for the evening at Alleys, their favourite hang-out.  The night has barely begun when the place is rocked by an explosion that kills several of the bar’s paranormal patrons and injures many more – including Colin, who discovered the hard way that using his phoenix powers to control fire isn’t as easy now he’s unbonded.

Amid the chaos, Evan is sure he recognises someone from a recent investigation, a shifter who works as bodyguard to Elijah Michelakis, the man believed to be behind the recent campaign to expose and discredit paranormals in the community.  It seems as though the anti-paranormal campaign has been stepped up, but when Michelakis is found dead – apparently by his own hand – it’s clear to Evan and the gang that there’s something – or someone – else pulling the strings.

In my review of the previous book, I said that it posed more questions than it afforded answers and that it moved swiftly without offering more than a cursory exploration of events.  As well as the main plotline about the threat to Toronto’s paranormal community, there was a subplot about Hudson’s brother and one about Colin’s former fiancée and his son, and there was so much going on that the romance between Evan and Colin just wasn’t gelling.  Even so, the breaking of their bond at the end was a real gut-punch, so I was looking forward to seeing them fall in love ‘properly’ in this book, but while the author does a good job of tying up all the loose ends, I still found the romance a bit lacking, and can’t help wishing Colin’s PoV had been included. Without it, he feels distanced and little more than two-dimensional.

Evan, on the other hand, is superbly characterised, likeable and sympathetic.  As has been the case throughout this and the previous series (Not Dead Yet) his “asshole brain” – aka, depression – is written realistically and sensitively, and I’ve really enjoyed watching his growing confidence as he comes into his own, still very much part of the family Wes and Hudson have built, but capable of standing on his own two feet and living on his own terms.

The book feels more cohesive than the previous one and the plot is well-paced and developed, but the identity of the Big Bad comes a bit out of left-field, and in the end, their motivations are not particularly compelling.  I can’t deny I was a bit disappointed with how certain aspects of the final showdown were handled, but ultimately, Out of the Ashes reaches a satisfying conclusion and is an enjoyable finale to Evan and Colin’s journey, with a firm HEA for them and the hint of a possible spin off/sequel series that will open out the paranormal world Jenn Burke has so strongly established.

If you’ve been following the Ashes & Dust series, then you’ll want to pick up Out of the Ashes to find out how everything turns out, and if not, there’s a lot to enjoy here.  If you’re in the market for a series of paranormal romances featuring strong world-building, likeable characters and intriguing plots, with a found-family vibe and plenty of warmth and humour, this one should definitely be on your radar.

Proper Scoundrels by Allie Therin (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Froomkin

proper scoundrelsThis title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Their scandalous pasts have left them wounded and unworthy – and hopelessly perfect together.

London, 1925

Sebastian de Leon is adjusting to life after three years spent enthralled by blood magic. The atrocities he committed under its control still weigh heavily on his conscience, but when he’s asked to investigate a series of mysterious murders, it feels like an opportunity to make amends. Until he realizes the killer’s next likely target is a man who witnessed Sebastian at his worst – the Viscount Fine.

Lord Fine – known as Wesley to his friends, if he had any – is haunted by ghosts of his own after serving as a British army captain during the Great War. Jaded and untrusting, he’s tempted to turn Sebastian in, but there’s something undeniably captivating about the reformed paranormal, and after Sebastian risks his own life to save Wesley’s, they find common ground.

Seeking sanctuary together at Wesley’s country estate in Yorkshire, the unlikely pair begins to unravel a mystery steeped in legend and folklore, the close quarters emboldening them to see past the other’s trauma to the person worth loving beneath. But with growing targets on their backs, they’ll have to move quickly if they want to catch a killer – and discover whether two wounded souls can help each other heal.

Rating:  Narration – A-; Content – A-

Note: Although this is a standalone novel, it is linked to the Magic in Manhattan series; and as there are references to events that occurred in those books, there are likely to be spoilers for the series in this review.

When Allie Therin’s Magic in Manhattan series came to an end last year, I was pleased to learn that she would be writing a spin-off novel that would follow two different protagonists who had previously appeared as secondary characters in the main series. Proper Scoundrels is that spin-off, and I have to admit that much as I came to enjoy the series that spawned it, it is – so far – my favourite of the author’s novels. Plus – and this is a BIG plus – this book benefits enormously in audio from having the always excellent Joel Froomkin as narrator; the earlier series was (unfortunately) performed by a relatively inexperienced narrator who didn’t do it justice.

The action in Proper Scoundrels shifts from New York in 1925 to England later the same year, where we catch up with Wesley Collins, Viscount Fine, who is as prickly, cynical and irritable as ever. Even though he had a fairly large role to play in the events of Wonderstruck, Arthur, Rory and the gang were able to keep him in ignorance of the existence of magic – although unbeknownst to him, his Kensington home is now protected by a magical painting by the paranormal artist Isabella de Leon, which prevents other paranormals from properly seeing the house. As an extra precaution, her brother Sebastian – who has hidden himself away in London to lick his wounds after having been magically enslaved by the evil Baron Keppler – wanders past the place every so often, just to keep an eye out and make sure that Lord Fine is in no danger as a result of his connection to Arthur Kenzie and Rory Brodigan.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Marvellous Light (The Last Binding #1) by Freya Marske (audiobook) – Narrated by David Thorpe

a marvellous light

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Young baronet Robin Blyth thought he was taking up a minor governmental post. However, he’s actually been appointed parliamentary liaison to a secret magical society. If it weren’t for this administrative error, he’d never have discovered the incredible magic underlying his world.

Cursed by mysterious attackers and plagued by visions, Robin becomes determined to drag answers from his missing predecessor – but he’ll need the help of Edwin Courcey, his hostile magical-society counterpart. Unwillingly thrown together, Robin and Edwin will discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B+

Freya Marske’s debut novel A Marvellous Light is the first in a new historical/fantasy romance series set in Edwardian England. I read it back in December 2021 and enjoyed the clever blend of magic, humour, mystery and antagonists-to-lovers romance, so I decided I’d give it a go in audio as well.

Although he inherited his baronetcy upon the recent death of his father, Sir Robert (Robin) Blyth needs to continue to work in order to support himself and his younger sister; thanks to the excessive spending habits of their parents, their meagre inheritance isn’t enough for them to live on. Robin arrives at the Home Office to take up his new position of Assistant in the Office of Special Domestic Affairs and Complaints without a very clear idea of what the position actually entails; all he knows is that the previous incumbent – Reggie Gatling – disappeared suddenly a couple of weeks earlier, and he honestly suspects his appointment was a mistake. He’s barely taken his seat when a man enters his office and abruptly demands to know where Reggie is. When the man, who introduces himself as Edwin Courcey, liaison to the Chief Minister of the Magical Assembly, starts talking about magic and spells and imbuement, Robin is further baffled and even more convinced that someone is having a joke at his expense. Edwin, exasperated at having to work with someone so obviously clueless, insists it’s no joke, and proves to him that magic really does exist.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.