Spooky Business (The Spectral Files #3) by S.E. Harmon (audiobook) – Narrated by Kirt Graves

spooky business

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Being insatiably curious is a good way to end up dead.

Rain Christiansen, cold-case detective and reluctant medium, is very aware of that fact. But when infamous serial killer Thomas Kane wants to meet, there’s no way Rain can say no. He also can’t refuse Kane’s offer – find his missing wife, Delilah, and he’ll reveal the location of his victim’s bodies.

Rain has never turned down a good quid pro quo, and he doesn’t intend to start.

The hunt for Kane’s wife leads to yet another cold case, three copycat murders, and an investigation where nothing is as it seems. Soon, Rain is dealing with a ghost unlike any he’s ever dealt with before…a ghost capable of doing things he shouldn’t be able to do. How can Rain control something he doesn’t even understand? And what will he do when the unknown threatens the safety of the most important person in his life?

Rain is starting to realize that he can only battle the supernatural with the supernatural, and that is spooky business indeed.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B

This third book in S.E. Harmon’s Spectral Files finds psychic and former FBI agent-turned-cold-case-detective Rain Christiansen confronting a serial killer in order to try to find out where the bodies are buried. Literally. The spookiness factor seems to increase with each book, and Spooky Business is a bit darker in tone than the previous entry in the series – and that’s fine – but I have to say there was one thing near the end that really stretched my credulity, and it seemed to me that Danny (Rain’s boyfriend) spent most of the time on the periphery of the story.

When Rain is asked by his former boss at the FBI to meet with convicted serial killer Thomas Kane, Rain, who is terminally afflicted by insatiable curiosity, agrees to make the four-hour drive to the correctional facility at which he’s being held. It’s immediately clear that Kane has no intention of telling him where he disposed of the remains of his victims; instead he tells Rain that he didn’t kill his wife Delilah Rose and asks him to find out what happened to her after she left him back in the 80s. He also insists he wasn’t responsible for all the murders attributed to him and that four of the twelve were carried out by a copycat – and tells Rain he’s being haunted and wants him to stop it. If Rain does both those things, then he’ll fess up about the bodies.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Quiet House (Black & Blue #2) by Lily Morton

The Quiet House

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Levi Black has mostly recovered from the events of a year ago. The only lingering effects are that he’s much more well known in York than he’d like to be, and he’s a lot more cautious about walking around his house naked. However, those events brought him the capricious and fascinating Blue, so he’s not complaining. On the contrary, he’s happy, in love, and looking forward to Blue finally moving in with him. And if sometimes he wonders what Blue sees in a boring cartoonist, he keeps that to himself.

Blue Billings is finally ready to throw off the memories of his past and move in with the person who means the most in the world to him. His psychic abilities have grown in the last year to his mentor Tom’s consternation, but Blue is determined to look on the bright side. He’s also focused on ignoring all the warning signs that he’s received lately.

However, even deeply buried secrets have a way of rising to the surface. And when a surprise from Blue’s past turns up and draws them away to a lonely house on the Yorkshire moors, Levi and Blue must fight for their survival once again.

Rating: B

Lily Morton’s The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings introduced readers to the eponymous quirky and snarky York-based ghost-tour guide, and Levi Black, a cartoonist from London who, after the death of his mother and a bad break-up, moves to York after inheriting a house near the Minster from a distant relative.  It’s a fun mix of romance and ghost story, with likeable characters, some lovely moments of poignancy and lots of the author’s trademark witty banter, and I – like many of Ms. Morton’s fans – have been eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.  The Quiet House is that book, and once again the author has penned an intriguing story and peopled it with some great characters – some we’ve met before, some who are new – and shown she’s more than able to bring the spooky when called for.

The Quiet House takes place around a year after Blue and Levi were nearly killed ridding Levi’s house of a particularly dangerous and malevolent ghost.  The intervening year has seen a number of changes in their lives – good changes – with Blue working to understand and control his abilities and he and Levi becoming closer and finding their way forward as a couple.  Blue still leads his ghost tour once a week, and when the story begins, Blue notices an old man dressed all in black standing quietly at the back of his tour group. He’s far too solid-looking to be a spirit, and Blue believes he’s just a late arrival – and a stingy one at that, when he disappears without paying the fee.  Not until a day or so later does he learn what he’s seen, when his friend, employer and mentor in all things psychic, crotchety bookshop-owner Tom Pattison, explains that what he saw was a spirit – or more correctly a “crow” – a warning that trouble is on the way.

And it arrives when Levi opens the door one evening to a stranger asking to see Blue – a stranger who looks oddly familiar.  With good reason.  The man is Declan Shaw.  Blue’s absentee father.

Blue has never even met his dad seeing as how he legged it before Blue was born; he recognises him from an old photo his mother kept with her at all times.  Declan’s sudden appearance evokes mixed emotions in Blue – anger for sure, but curiosity, too; maybe Declan can fill in some of the blanks for Blue, tell him some of the things about his mother he longs to know.  But Declan shows no sign of wanting to build anything with his son; he’s there to offer Blue a lucrative job at the home of his eccentric employer, Viscount Ingram, whose massive country house on the Yorkshire Moors is reputed to be the most haunted house in England.  Ingram wants to open the house to the public as a hotel of the macabre – and he needs a psychic to tell him about the spirits he can see, to interact with them and tell him their stories.

Much to Levi’s dismay, Blue is intrigued and seriously considering the proposition.  He’s worried that Declan will hurt Blue, but when Tom reveals the house in question has a terrible reputation and that it’s haunted by some very violent sprits, it seems that there is a great deal more to worry about than Blue’s relationship with his father.  Tom and Levi know Blue is going to need all the help he can get, and together, the three of them make their way to the grand estate, where right from the off, Blue and Tom are affected by the overwhelming sense of evil that permeates the place.

And of course things go from bad to worse once they arrive.  It turns out Blue and Tom aren’t the only psychics to have been invited to unlock the secrets of this particular haunted house, and that over the past year or so, Ingram has extended the same invitation to many psychic guests  – and now it seems the spirits are seriously pissed off and that something truly powerful and evil has been awakened.  And not only that, but Blue’s worst nightmare seems to be coming true. Something is targeting Levi.

Lily Morton is known for writing funny, sexy contemporary romances with plenty of snark and plenty of steam, but in this series, she shows she’s able to turn her hand to something different.  The steam and humour are still present (albeit a little toned down), but the paranormal element of the story is the main focus, and she creates a real sense of menace and disquiet that slowly pervades the book, becoming stronger and stronger until we reach the novel’s dramatic climax.

I was delighted to see Tom get a bigger role in this story; he’s a curmudgeon with a heart of gold and a real soft spot for Blue, and I love his deadpan sense of humour.  The other secondary characters –  an eccentric viscount, a TV psychic and a couple of nasty blasts from Blue’s past – are vividly drawn, and I hope Jem, the cameraman who would rather be photographing penguins than poltergeists, will make that trip to York and meet up with Blue’s friend Will again.

The romance in this book is more low-key than before, but even though Blue and Levi have been together for a year, they have some lovely, tender moments together, and I was really pleased to see how far Blue has come since the last book, when he was skittish and insecure, used to keeping himself apart and waiting for rejection.  He’s the same whimsical, smart-mouthed so-and-so he always was, but there’s a sense of stability and equanimity in him that weren’t there before.  And Levi – sweet, caring, loveable Levi – is his anchor, the person who keeps him grounded and tethered to reality.  Their devotion to one another shines through, even in moments of insecurity and doubt.

The Quiet House is an entertaining read that boasts a winning combination of snarky psychic, lonely viscount, ghostly monks, satanic rituals and the grumpiest mentor ever.  It’s a nicely balanced mix of funny, sexy and spooky, and I enjoyed my return to the world of Black & Blue.

Starcrossed (Magic in Manhattan #2) by Allie Therin (audiobook) – Narrated by Erik Bloomquist

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When everything they’ve built is threatened, only their bond remains….

New York, 1925

Psychometric Rory Brodigan’s life hasn’t been the same since the day he met Arthur Kenzie. Arthur’s continued quest to contain supernatural relics that pose a threat to the world has captured Rory’s imagination – and his heart. But Arthur’s upper-class upbringing still leaves Rory worried that he’ll never measure up, especially when Arthur’s aristocratic ex arrives in New York.

For Arthur, there’s only Rory. But keeping the man he’s fallen for safe is another matter altogether. When a group of ruthless paranormals throws the city into chaos, the two men’s strained relationship leaves Rory vulnerable to a monster from Arthur’s past.

With dark forces determined to tear them apart, Rory and Arthur will have to draw on every last bit of magic up their sleeves. And in the end, it’s the connection they’ve formed without magic that will be tested like never before.

Rating: Narration – C; Content – B

Allie Therin’s engaging Magic in Manhattan series sets an intriguing combination of supernatural relics, powerful psychics, romance and magic amid prohibition era New York. Starcrossed is the second book, and you really do need to have read or listened to book one, Spellbound, in order to get to grips with it. I read and reviewed it in print when it came out in May 2020, and even though I HAD read book one, I found myself a bit lost to start with because there’s hardly any recapping and I wished I’d done a re-read to refresh my memory. But once I’d skimmed a few sections in Spellbound, I was up to speed and able to enjoy the story in Starcrossed.

There are spoilers for Spellbound in this review.

It’s Manhattan in 1925, and twenty-year-old psychometric Rory Brodigan works as an antiques appraiser in his aunt’s shop, earning the place a reputation as the place to go to sort out the fake from the real thing. This is because Rory’s paranormal ability means he’s able to touch an object and be transported into its history (which can also be incredibly dangerous as it’s possible he could end up trapped in that history in his mind) – and he’s something of a recluse, staying very much in the background and taking care not to reveal his ability to anyone. In Spellbound, handsome, wealthy congressman’s son Arthur Kenzie brought some letters to Mrs. Brodigan’s shop for appraisal, and through the course of the story Rory met other paranormals (Jade, a telekinetic, and Zhang, who can walk on the Astral Plane), and learned that that while Arthur has no magic himself, he’s dedicated to protecting the world from supernatural relics that could destroy it. He and Arthur also commenced a romantic relationship – although that’s not the strongest part of the story.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Wonderstruck (Magic in Manhattan #3) by Allie Therin

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

New York, 1925

Arthur Kenzie is on a mission: to destroy the powerful supernatural relic that threatens Manhattan—and all the nonmagical minds in the world. So far his search has been fruitless. All it has done is keep him from the man he loves. But he’ll do anything to keep Rory safe and free, even if that means leaving him behind.

Psychometric Rory Brodigan knows his uncontrolled magic is a liability, but he’s determined to gain power over it. He can take care of himself—and maybe even Arthur, too, if Arthur will let him. An auction at the Paris world’s fair offers the perfect opportunity to destroy the relic, if a group of power-hungry supernaturals don’t destroy Rory and Arthur first.

As the magical world converges on Paris, Arthur and Rory have to decide who they can trust. Guessing wrong could spell destruction for their bond—and for the world as they know it.

Rating: B+

Wonderstruck is the third book in Allie Therin’s Magic in Manhattan series of paranormal romances set in 1920s New York, and is the best of the bunch, boasting a high-stakes, fast-paced plot, engaging characters, strong worldbuilding and a central relationship that has come on leaps and bounds since the first book.

When I reviewed the previous book (Starcrossed), I said I wish I’d thought to re-read Spellbound (book one) first, as there is very little recapping and I was at a bit of a loss to start with.  Wanting to avoid the same again, I listened to the audio version of Starcrossed shortly before beginning Wonderstruck and I’m pleased I did, because I had no problems getting into the story this time around.  (Which is to say that I’d advise anyone interested in reading Wonderstruck to do a bit of backtracking first!).  As this is a series with overarching plot-threads, there will be spoilers for the other books in this review.

When Wonderstruck opens, we find Arthur Kenzie in Montreal with his close friends, paranormals Jade, a telekenetic and Zhang, who can walk on the astral plane.  They’re there searching for a way to destroy a dangerous supernatural artefact, a pomander created using the most vile magic in existence and which has the ability to enslave non-magical minds.  Arthur has been away from New York – and from his lover, powerful psychometric Rory Brodigan – for a month and is no closer to his objective than when he started – and the lack of progress and time away from the man he loves is really trying his patience.  He knows it’s best for Rory that he stays put in New York, but he misses him dreadfully.

The news that there is to be a secret paranormal exhibit at the upcoming world’s fair in Paris offers some hope, however.  Such an exhibit might well draw the attention of someone with the knowledge to help them destroy the pomander – but a trip to Paris will mean more weeks, maybe months away from New York, and bringing Rory to Europe just isn’t an option.  Baron Zeppler, the telepath who is bent on harnessing the power of magical relics for his own nefarious purposes, is now undoubtedly aware of Rory’s existence and of the power he can wield through the Tempest Ring and his psychometry – and Arthur is determined to keep Rory as far from his evil machinations as possible.

But of course, the best laid plans never pan out.  Arthur, Jade and Zhang return to New York so that Arthur can be with Rory on his twenty-first birthday, and after another failed attempt to destroy the pomander, they realise they’re going to need help.  None of them likes the idea of approaching Gwen and Ellis – the former wartime best friends of Jade and Arthur who betrayed them in Spellbound;  but after Gwen saved Rory’s life in Starcrossed, they’ve realised they have a common aim in wanting to neutralise the pomander and put Baron Zeppler out of commission.  Working on the principle that  ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ (sort of), and realising that it’s no longer safe to leave Rory in New York, the four of them – Arthur, Rory, Jade and Zhang – sail across the Atlantic and head for London.

What follows is a tense and exciting romp that kept me reading until well past my bedtime!  With Arthur hiding a terrible secret of his own, and the line between friend and enemy becoming blurred, the story moves at full pelt into the nail-biting finale, wherein our heroes are forced to battle the vilest magic of all.

Amid the thrills and spills, Arthur and Rory find time for a few tender moments, and I have to say that Ms. Therin has at last managed to convince me of their genuine attachment and absolute devotion to one another.  Previously, I found it difficult to see what a wealthy sophisticate like Arthur could see in the prickly, much younger Rory (the age gap is about eight years) who, when they first met, behaved like a complete brat towards him. Here, however, I finally bought their connection, and even though their relationship is still beset with problems of communication and trust, they feel really solid as a couple.  As in the previous books, the author doesn’t sweep aside the difficulties faced by two men attempting a romantic relationship in the 1920s, difficulties which are compounded by their vast difference in social status.  One of the major sticking points between them has always been Rory’s refusal to accept Arthur’s help or to rely on him in any way.  By now, Arthur is finding it a bit wearing, his heart heavy because he feels that Rory’s reluctance to lean on him is because Rory has always got one foot halfway out the door.  Here at last, Rory starts to realise how his attitude is hurting the man he loves;  he admitted in the last book that he would want to help Arthur were their situations reversed, but he still wasn’t able to make any concessions.  Now though, he’s grown up enough to realise it’s not weak to ask for and accept help, and I was impressed with the amount of character growth Rory exhibits in this book.

The author’s research into Prohibition Era New York is excellent, enabling her to skilfully weave the threads of her own magical world into the historical background, putting the reader squarely at a table in Jade’s speakeasy or inside Rory’s dingy room at his rat-infested boarding house.  I noted – with a smile – that she chose an International ship for the gang to travel across the Atlantic so there would be booze available!

On the downside, I did find some of the information about the relics a bit confusing, and while Zeppler is definitely eeeevil, I was never completely clear as to why he wanted to amass All the Relics and All the Magic.  World domination, I suppose, but that’s rather unoriginal!  There were a few  places it seemed there was just too much going on and too many characters on page – although I admit that might be more a ‘me’ problem than a ‘book’ problem – and a couple of plot points appeared and then disappeared, never to be seen again.

But I enjoyed Wonderstruck despite those quibbles, and was completely caught up in the story.  A compelling combination of vivid historical setting, memorable characters, fascinating magic and a heartfelt romance, It’s a fine way to end this unique series.

Guarding His Melody (Enhanced World #4) by Victoria Sue (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Deaf since childhood, Sebastian Armitage had a promising musical future until his dreams were shattered when he transformed at 12 years old.

In a world where enhanced humans are terrorized and imprisoned, his life shrinks around him even more as he suffers the torment of his father’s experimental research to enable him to hear.

Gray Darling – struggling with the scars left by his experience in Afghanistan – agrees to provide short-term personal protection when anonymous threats escalate into assault on those closest to Seb.

As the lines between protection and attraction blur, Gray and Seb can’t ignore the intense feelings drawing them together. But secrets and betrayals might prove deadly, unless Gray is willing to risk it all. And Seb must find the strength to make his own future and sing his own song…

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B-

Victoria Sue’s Enhanced World series features a group of characters with special abilities known as (surprise, surprise!) the Enhanced. Most of the books in the series centre around a specially created Florida-based FBI unit that partners an Enhanced with a regular human, but Guarding His Melody (book four) is an offshoot of the main series which means it’s perfectly possible to listen to it as a standalone. The author does a good job of making it possible for new listeners to jump in here, giving all the necessary backstory without info-dumping, but for the purposes of this review, here’s a quick rundown. The Enhanced are humans who, in childhood or adolescence, suddenly develop special abilities, which range from super strength to the ability to become invisible, walk through walls, destroy metal, x-ray vision … it’s a long list and there’s no way of knowing beforehand who will transform, let alone what their powers might be. The only things all Enhanced have in common are 1) an identifying facial mark or scar which appears literally overnight when they undergo their transformation; 2) when they transform, their parents are given the choice to keep them in their households or send them away – a disturbing number take the latter option; 3) they are feared and viewed with suspicion, distrust and even hatred by the ‘normal’ public, and 4) they don’t have the same rights as everyone else.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

From London, With Love (London Steampunk #6) by Bec McMaster

This title may be purchased from Amazon

With London finally at peace, there is only one threat remaining to the stability of the monarchy…. The queen is without an heir.

Queen Alexandra is done with marriage, but as always, the Duke of Malloryn has a plan. With Malloryn insisting upon an heir for the realm, Alexandra reluctantly agrees to accept a husband. But who? With Europe’s most eligible bachelors in London to attend her exhibition, she finds herself pining for the only man who has never betrayed her. The only man she wants. And the one man she cannot have.

A queen’s duty is never done.

Alexandra’s feelings for her dearest friend Sir Gideon have always been warm, but a stolen kiss pushed a friendship into dangerous waters. How can she explain that she has never known desire before? How can she stand to be in the same room as Gideon, without betraying her feelings? And how can she marry someone else?

But there’s an assassin on the loose, and while she may currently be at odds with Sir Gideon, he’s the only man who can save both her wounded heart—and the future of the realm. Foreign princes and meddling dukes, bedamned.

Rating: B-

Bec McMaster’s fantastic London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy series reached a breathtakingly exciting close back in February 2019 with Dukes are Forever, wrapping up the overarching plotlines and giving the enigmatic Duke of Malloryn his HEA, leaving the Company of Rogues all happily settled as they continue in their mission to protect their queen and the realm.

But the author wasn’t quite done, and shortly afterwards, gifted her newsletter subscribers with From London, With Love, a long-ish novella (now available to buy) in which the long-suffering Queen Alexandra gets her very own HEA as well.  It’s a story readers had been asking for, and because it’s definitely one for followers of the series, it will make little sense if you haven’t read at least some of the novels that precede it.

When we first met Alexandra in the original London Steampunk books, she was nothing more than her husband’s puppet; the Prince Consort kept her drugged up and docile while he and the ruling Echelon pursued ruthless policies against the non-blue blood denizens of London, keeping the humans, mechs and wervulfen beaten down and using them as fodder for the draining factories that supported blue blood society.  At the end of that series, the Prince Consort was killed, the regime was overthrown, and by the time the Blue Blood Conspiracy series opened three years later, the Queen is recovered and is once more on the throne and ruling with the help of a much more tolerant and even-handled council comprised of her staunch allies (Malloryn, Barrons and Mina, Lynch, Blade etc.).  But as the books in that series showed, the throne is still vulnerable and the political situation, while improving, is still not completely stable.  From London, With Love opens as Malloryn puts a proposal to Alexandra, one she doesn’t care for at all – namely, she needs to marry and produce an heir or name her successor. Should something happen to her before either of those things is done, it could ignite a(nother) civil war.

“I’m tired of war.  I want to take a bloody holiday with my wife without the palace going up in flames.”

Alexandra might not like it, but she sees the wisdom of Malloryn’s words and agrees to seek a husband; at least this time, she will be choosing for herself and marrying on her own terms.   What she doesn’t know is that the wily Malloryn already has someone in mind…

Sir Gideon Scott has been a true friend to Alexandra throughout the worst years and is a trusted advisor and sounding board.  Alexandra is strongly attracted to him and he to her, but he’s a commoner as well as being another human –and Alexandra is sure that the council will oppose her taking a human – and the leader of the Humanist movement, no less – as her husband.

Before Alexandra can take any husband, however, it becomes clear that an assassin has her in their sights, and with the court full of visiting princes and dignitaries from around the world, it falls to Malloryn, Sir Gideon and the CoR to ensure the Queen’s safety and who wants her dead.

The shorter page count means an overall paring down in terms of both plot and romance here.  There are still some vivid action scenes and the stakes are still high, but the romance isn’t quite as convincing as in the other books.  Sir Gideon is a terrific hero; handsome, intelligent and loyal, and Alexandra is a nice mix of confident and vulnerable. I liked them together and Gideon is just what Alexandra needs but I didn’t feel that deep connection between them that exists between the other couples in the series.  They have chemistry for sure, and although I didn’t at first much like Alexandra’s solution to overcoming her fear of physical intimacy, I did like the way Gideon was so careful and respectful of her wishes, and how he wouldn’t let her push herself too far.

The villain of the piece is fairly obvious (despite the presence of the Red Herring designed to throw is off the scent!), but the mystery storyline is entertaining, and affords opportunities for some of the Rogues to become involved in the hunt for the would be assassin.

And speaking of the Rogues, I loved seeing them all again – their wonderful dynamic and camaraderie hasn’t changed – and I especially enjoyed getting to see Malloryn and Adele happily  snarking at each other (and seeing just how well Adele knows her husband).  Malloryn is the same hard-arse he always was but he lets his softer side out a bit more, and I really appreciated the fact that he actually listens to Adele and Gemma when they tell him that he hasn’t always dealt with Alexandra as kindly or as well as he could have done – and then that he has the balls to admit his mistakes and apologise for them.

From London, With Love may not be a personal favourite, but it’s a fun read, with a little bit of everything that has made this series so addictive. The best part of all may have been the very end, when it started to look as though Ms. McMaster was setting up a new series… which she confirms in her author’s note.  The action will shift to the Russian Blood Court and the Scandinavian Wervulfen in her forthcoming London Steampunk: Blood Court series; the bad news is that we’ll have to wait a year or two, but I’ll definitely be here read to gobble it up whenever it appears!

Cry Wolf (Big Bad Wolf #5) by Charlie Adhara

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Agent Cooper Dayton never thought anything could be harder than solving murders. Until he had to plan a wedding. After taking down an old adversary, Agent Cooper Dayton of the Bureau of Special Investigations has earned a break. Not that planning a wedding to his sexy shifter partner, Oliver Park, is necessarily stress free, but it’s better than worrying about the ominous warning, delivered months ago, that Cooper’s life is in danger.

When he’s dragged to an event by his family, Cooper braces for an awkward evening, but instead finds himself in the middle of an ugly feud between Park’s ex and a rebel pack leader. What was supposed to be a quick outing turns into a full-blown murder investigation after the pack leader ends up dead, Park’s ex goes missing, and Cooper and Park are sent a series of disturbing wedding gifts that are somehow connected to it all.

The list of potential suspects is long, and with the bodies piling up, Cooper must turn to the one person he trusts the least: the villain he’s already put behind bars once and who has nothing to lose by lying and everything to gain if Cooper is out of the picture—for good.

Rating: A

Cry Wolf is the fifth instalment of Charlie Adhara’s paranormal/romantic suspense Big Bad Wolf series,  and I started reading it with mixed feelings;  eagerness at the thought of another story featuring Cooper and Park, and sadness at the thought of having to say goodbye to them, because I thought this was to be the final book in the series.  But having finished it, I’m now hopeful that we’re going to be gifted with yet more stories set in this world, because Cry Wolf sets up some extremely interesting potential plotlines, especially in relation to the things we learn about the hierarchy of wolf society, reminds us of a number of important unanswered questions, AND brings back a charismatic secondary character who – it seems to me – is crying out for an HEA of his own.  So please, Ms. Adhara, can we have some more?

Note:  Minor spoilers ahead for previous books in the series.

At the very end of Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, the newly engaged Cooper and Park received the unsettling news that Dr. Emily Freeman, the scientist who absconded with scientific proof of the existence of werewolves at the end of Thrown to the Wolves, had broken into their apartment, surrendered herself into custody and is refusing to speak to anyone but Cooper.  Cry Wolf opens a week later as Cooper goes to see her; she tells him he’s in great danger and says she’ll tell him who’s coming for him in exchange for a deal that will grant her a new identity and see her released without charge.  When Cooper doesn’t show a great deal of concern she takes great delight in taunting him about how little he really knows about werewolves and their way of life, and then clams up.

Eventually, Cooper, Park and their boss dismiss Freeman’s claims as just another attempt to manipulate Cooper, meaning he can get back to quietly freaking out about planning his and Park’s wedding.  Marriage isn’t a thing in the werewolf community, but Park is so head-over-heels in love with Cooper, he’ll do whatever it takes to make him happy and enthusiastically accepted his proposal.  But being unfamiliar with the concept of weddings and how to actually go about getting married, Park has left all the planning up to Cooper, who wants it to be perfect and is practically paralysed into indecision as a result.  (Gah! – he luuuuuurves Park so damn much and he wants to show that he knows what a big statement Park is making by undergoing such a very human ritual, but how does he say that with flowers?  Or a ring? Or a big wedding? Or a minutely curated guest list? Or a hundred other possibilities he really can’t decide on?)

The reappearance of Eli, Park’s ex, gives Cooper something else to think about. Eli is being blackmailed by someone from the distant past he’s worked hard to put behind him, someone from his days running with rebel packs who betrayed him horribly, leaving him trapped in fur with people who kept him in chains until the Park pack found him, rescued him and took him in.  It all happened years ago, but Eli recently received a letter threatening to send evidence of his involvement to the big packs he and his fellow rebels stole from unless Eli pays him.  Refusing to let this person control him again, Eli has tracked him down and discovered that he’s working as – of all things – a zookeeper in DC, and he asks Cooper for his help in finding the evidence, which he suspects is hidden somewhere at the zoo.

Cooper and Park visit the zoo next day to see what they can find out and it’s not long before they’re up to their necks in trouble.  The body of Eli’s blackmailer is found floating in the sea lion pool, four long slashes on his torso that remind Cooper uncomfortably of those on his own body, the face a horrific rictus of elongated bone and tightly stretched skin that is neither man nor wolf.  Eli goes into hiding, not prepared to take the rap for something he didn’t do, leaving Cooper and Park even more determined to help him and prove his innocence.  But trouble seems to follow them, in the form of yet more strangely part-transformed dead wolves, and a nosy FBI agent – who happens to be Cooper’s ex-partner… and ex-lover.

Charlie Adhara once again delivers a clever, fast-moving, intriguing and twisty mystery that is full of red herrings, suspicious characters and dead ends, while continuing to expand the world she’s created, bringing in wolf lore and mythology, setting up a three-way power struggle between the ruling packs, the rebels and the WIP (Wolf Independence Party) – and placing Cooper right in the middle of it.  And she combines all this with some truly stellar character and relationship development, skilfully eschewing the sort of manufactured drama that sometimes occurs in series featuring an established couple.  Cooper is a complex and endearing PoV character, and his evolution throughout the entire series has been spectacular; he’s still very much the man we met in The Wolf at the Door – prickly, sarcastic, and socially awkward – but while he remains those things, he’s become someone who has learned to face his insecurities and to communicate fully and honestly with his partner. It’s been an amazing journey and I’ve adored watching his transformation from that insular loner who didn’t realise his own worth to a man who loves and is loved utterly and completely, and has come to realise he’s stronger than he’d ever believed.  And even though we never get into Park’s head, the author does a fantastic job of showing us how his character is evolving, too, learning to accept his own dark past and becoming a committed romantic partner.  Cooper and Park are one of my favourite pairings, a real odd-couple whose differences and imperfections somehow make them a perfect fit.  Through it all, Ms. Adhara is keeping this series fresh and exciting, and even after five books, I’m nowhere near tired of reading about these characters.

I also enjoyed the presence of Cooper’s family in this book, and watching him getting on so well with his brother Dean and building a relationship with his father. Things between them were somewhat fragile back in The Wolf at Bay, and neither of them is naturally inclined to openness, but it was lovely to watch Ed being so supportive and Cooper accepting it and getting to know him better.

Cry Wolf is a swoonworthy blend of humour, tenderness and heartfelt passion, a fantastic addition to the Big Bad Wolf series, and possibly my favourite of the lot.  The mystery is brilliantly done and kept me fully engaged from start to finish and I continue to adore Cooper and Park individually and as a couple; they’re flawed, multi-layered, loveable characters whose love for each other shines through no matter what.  Given all the loose ends and potential plot threads that emerge in this book, I’m extremely hopeful that this isn’t the end, and am eagerly awaiting the next instalment of Cooper and Park’s adventures!

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.

Stray Fears by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Elien Martel is a survivor, but surviving, he’s beginning to discover, isn’t the same thing as living. In the house he shares with his much older boyfriend, Elien spends his days trying to stay as far away from living as possible. Living, he has learned, means that sooner or later you’ll get hurt.

When a member of Elien’s support group dies under strange circumstances, though, Elien finds himself in a web of bizarre coincidences. The responding officer turns out to be another member of Elien’s support group—a man named Mason, who has made no effort to hide his dislike of Elien. Then, just a few days later, Mason tries to kill Elien in front of dozens of witnesses.

As violence ripples through Elien’s world, he begins to suspect that the coincidences are not coincidences at all. Something is at work behind the cascade of tragedies, something vicious and intelligent. Something that has wanted Elien for a long time.

To defeat it, Elien will have to do what he fears most and face the darkness in his own past. Worse, he’ll have to take the risk of trying to live again.

Rating: A-

Stray Fears is another compelling story from the pen of Gregory Ashe that once again showcases his talent for creating strong, clever plots and engaging but flawed characters who exhibit considerable growth as individuals throughout the course of the story. As in most of his output, we’ve got an intriguing mystery and a central romance, but this time the mystery has a paranormal/horror vibe that focuses on the members of a support group for people with PTSD. It’s an imaginative, fast-moving and perfectly-paced story in which the author creates a real sense of menace that builds from chapter to chapter, making it a difficult book to put down.

Twenty-two-year-old Elien Martel’s life was ripped apart around a year earlier when his parents were shot dead by his older brother who then turned the gun upon himself. Plagued by grief and guilt, Elien is volatile and prone to lashing out, especially at his much older boyfriend, Richard (whom he lives with), a psychiatrist whose Quiet Understanding (Elien’s capitalisation), insistence on Giving Him Space and refusal to have a damn good row irritates Elien no end. It’s Richard who encourages Elien to attend a support group for people with PTSD which is run by one of his colleagues. Even though Elien comes across as a bit of a self-centred prick to start with, he’s really good with the other members of the group, showing them kindness and compassion and offering support when they need it. The group leader even suggests Elien could lead a support group himself – an idea he laughs off – but he agrees to her request that he keep an eye on fellow group member Ray who’s not been doing so well lately.

A day or so after this, Sheriff’s deputy Dag LeBlanc answers the call for a wellness check on Ray Field and arrives at Ray’s building with his partner Mason – who is a member of the same support group as Elien. Mason dislikes Elien intensely – and for no apparent reason – and when he and Dag arrive to find it was Ellen who made the call, Mason tries to persuade Dag the guy is pulling some kind of stunt – but Dag calmly dismisses that idea and accompanies Elien to Ray’s door. Inside, they discover Ray’s dead body, sprawled on his bed, eyes open and dancing with blue fire, and… well, I’m not going to elaborate, so I’ll just say that things take a really creepy turn, and Dag – deciding he can’t possibly have seen what he thinks he saw – escorts a freaked-out Elien outside… only for the guy to accuse him of cowardice when Dag refuses to acknowledge anything out of the ordinary happened.

But Dag isn’t going to be able to stay in denial for much longer.  Mason has been behaving increasingly erratically, and he tries to kill Elien – in broad daylight and full view of anyone passing by  – after the next meeting of the support group.  Dag, who had been waiting to collect Mason and take him home, intervenes quickly – and this time there’s no denying that something weird is going on.  Not long after this, a third member of the group is found dead, apparently a suicide… then a fourth.  Someone – or something – is picking off the members of the group one by one, and isn’t going to stop until they’re all dead.

The plot moves swiftly as Elien and Dag race to find out who – or what – is responsible for the murders and then work out a way to stop them before they become its latest victims.  Mr. Ashe makes good use of local (the story is set just outside New Orleans) mythology to add extra chills, and the pervasive sense of dread grows slowly but inexorably as Elien and Dag get closer to the truth and we head towards a final nail-biting confrontation.

The plot is solid and the locations are vividly described, but once again, the characterisation is where this author truly shines.  He excels at creating believable, loveable characters whose flaws make them that much more human, and the two leads here are no exception.  Elien and Dag are like chalk and cheese; Dag is quiet, kind and one of the sweetest characters I think the author has ever written, while deeply troubled Elien is all sharp edges, using his caustic tongue to push people away and make self-disparaging marks about his mental health.  Deep down however, he’s a genuinely caring person who just wants to feel whole again and to find some closure following the tragedy that ripped his life apart.

The romance between Elien and Dag develops over only a couple of weeks, but it’s a nicely developed slow-burn, and the strong connection between the pair on an emotional level makes their eventual, hard-won HFN/HEA all the more believable.

Despite the heavy subject matter and the grisly deaths, there’s plenty of humour in the book, which comes mainly from the banter between the leads and from Dag’s parents who are wonderfully supportive of him but are perhaps too invested in his love life!  Given that so many protagonists in Mr. Ashe’s books have difficult relationships with their parents, it was a welcome change to read about a healthy familial relationship – even if the LeBlancs do go a bit over the top at times!

My only real criticism of the book is with the fact that Elien stumbles across answers a little easily and conveniently, and I admit that caused me to dither over the grade a bit.  In the end though, it didn’t really spoil my enjoyment of what is an otherwise well-put together story, and as it’s a book I’ll re-read, onto the keeper shelf it goes.  I don’t read horror in general, so I can’t really offer any insights as to how far Stray Fears fits into that genre, but as a paranormal mystery/romance, it offers a gripping, spine-tingling read for the long dark winter nights.

Note: This book contains several violent (off-screen) suicides and a scene of attempted sexual assault.

The Ghost and Charlie Muir by Felice Stevens

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Bad enough the big old house Charlie Muir inherits is next door to Ian Gregg, the most gorgeous guy he’s ever seen—it also happens to be occupied by Rachel, the ghost who keeps running off his dates. It’s impossible to get any loving when the bed starts shaking…and not because you’re having fun in it.

When Ian helps Charlie search for the source of strange noises in his house, they stumble upon a stack of photographs hiding century-old secrets. Curious of the friendship between the two men pictured, Charlie and Ian set off to solve the mystery of their relationship. With the help of the meddling ghost, a magical mirror, and a way too Smart TV, they find answers…and more.

And as things heat up between Charlie and Ian, they begin to wonder if Rachel’s meddling has gone too far.

Doesn’t Rachel know Ian is straight?
Or is he?
That kiss they shared the other night sure didn’t seem like it.
Or the one after that…

Rating: C+

I’ve enjoyed a number of books by Felice Stevens, and when I saw she was writing something a bit different – a love story with a paranormal twist – I was intrigued and eager to read it. The Ghost and Charlie Muir is a cute and tender standalone romance, in which our protagonists are helped along the road to love by a (mostly) friendly spirit. The title is clearly a nod to the well-known film about the ghost of a cantankerous sea-captain who falls in love with his human ‘hauntee’, but the similarities don’t go much beyond the title and the inclusion of a ghost on a mission.

Charlie Muir grew up in the foster system, so he’s surprised to discover that he’s inherited a house from a great-great aunt. His hasn’t been an easy life – moved from home to home he was never able to put down roots or make friends, being openly gay meant he was often bullied and his adult relationships haven’t been stellar either. He’s learned the hard way not to trust and to expect the worst.

His neighbour, Ian Gregg, works as an electrician and contractor, but he also used to look after the garden of the house next door. Since Miss Muir’s death two years earlier, the place has been closed up and the garden left to go a bit wild, but he hopes that whoever has just moved in will take care of the beautiful trees and flowers he’s inherited. He’s working in his own garden when his new neighbour introduces himself and offers Ian a drink – and Ian is caught unawares by a sense of familiarity… which makes no sense, as they’ve never met before.

Also making no sense is the prickle of attraction that sizzles through him when their hands touch in a simple greeting, or the way Charlie appears to be surrounded by a strange golden glow… Ian puts it all down to his still being hungover from the night before.

As they talk, Charlie mentions that something weird happened the other day when he brought a guy home. He tells Ian how the bedroom lights started flickering on and off, the chandelier above the bed started swinging back and forth and when the mirror fell off the wall, Charlie saw the face of a woman dressed in old-fashioned clothes staring disapprovingly back at him. Ian stops by to check out the wiring the next evening, and after doing that, offers to help Charlie to go through the stuff he’s found boxed up in the bedrooms. Exploring the attic and the upstairs further, they find a tiny, hidden room, and in it an old, locked box which, when they manage to open it, contains an Army death certificate for someone called Edward Robinson. Later that night, Charlie has a dream or vision of himself yet not himself – Edward – crawling through mud as screams and the sound of gunfire rend the air. And as it fades, images of Edward kissing another young man – Robert – followed by the appearance of the woman from the mirror, who informs him that he and Ian have much work to do.

Neither Charlie nor Ian can see what a decades-old story can possibly have to do with them, but the more they learn about Edward and Robert, the more intrigued they become and soon, they’re eager to find out what happened to them, two young men who were so clearly in love with each other but unable to do anything about it.

And as that love story progresses, so does the one between Charlie and Ian.  Ian has always been something of a ladies’ man and has never been attracted to men, but there’s something about Charlie that draws him in and makes him start to question things he’s always believed about himself, and to admit that there’s been something missing from his past relationships with women.  But something about Charlie just does it for him; and although it takes him a while to get his head around it, once he’s accepted that, he doesn’t freak out and is fully open to exploring the burgeoning feelings he has for Charlie.  The difficult part is going to be convincing Charlie that Ian really does want to be with him for more than sex;  Charlie has been there, done that, fallen for straight guys who only wanted some action on the side, and it always ended badly – sometimes even violently – for him.

Charlie and Ian are likeable characters, although Charlie is generally too passive, and his non-existent self-esteem has him coming across as overly needy and even, dare I say it, a bit whiny.  He’s sweet and he’s been through a lot, so his mass of insecurities make perfect sense, but his tendency to expect the worst was tiring at times, and there was one occasion I really wanted him to stop acting like a kicked puppy. Ian, on the other hand, is a live wire.  He’s outgoing and confident, but once he realises he’s all in for Charlie, is prepared to wait for him to catch up and realise that Ian wants to be with him for real.

On the downside though, the story is quite repetitive in places, and while I appreciate a slow burn, the trips to clubs and the ghostly interference and sabotaged dates were repetitive and felt like padding.  And although I really liked the idea of the two parallel love stories, the significance of Edward and Robert’s story is very obvious very quickly, and I didn’t understand why, if it was so important for Charlie and Ian to know their story, it was doled it out piecemeal rather than being told in one go. Okay, logically I know why not – if that had happened, that there would have been no book.  But once the ghost had their attention, whether it was by showing them visions of the past on the TV or in dreams, or by simply talking to them face-to-face, there was no reason I could see for it to be dragged out over several visits.

I liked the premise of the dual love story, but it didn’t quite work, and the ghostly shenanigans weren’t as spooky or as funny as I’d hoped.  The Ghost and Charlie Muir kept me entertained, but the repetitiveness and a rather wishy-washy main character keep it from earning a recommendation.