The Pros & Cons of Deception (Pros & Cons #2) by A.E. Wasp (audiobook) – Narrated by Tor Thom and Alexandre Steele

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

There’s nothing like being blackmailed by a dead man to really bring a group of cons together. The deal is simple, we do the jobs and Charlie’s lawyer wipes the slate clean for each of us, one at a time.

Job number two lands right in my lap. I’m Bond. Wesley Bond. (I can’t resist saying it that way. Blame my dad, if you can find him.) You could call me a hacker. I redistribute wealth – moving it from rich slimebags to poorer but infinitely more deserving people – and make a tidy profit as I do. My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to bring down some modern-day slave traders.

With the life of the one person in this world I love on the line, I can’t afford any screw-ups or distractions. Unfortunately, my biggest distraction is my biggest asset – Danny Monroe. Danny is a leftover complication from our first job. He’s a smart, funny, gorgeous ex-prostitute, who can’t seem to keep his clothes on. I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut around him. But I need a fake boyfriend, and Danny is the only option.

We don’t know who the bad guy is; we have no idea how to prove anything. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to need all the help I can get. Like it or not, we’re all in this together.

Rating: Narration: C-/B-; Content: C

The Pros & Cons of Deception is the second book in the Pros & Cons series, and the synopsis for the series – a group of misfits is blackmailed into carrying out a series of missions left to them by a dead man – sounded like a mash-up of LeverageCharlie’s Angels and Ocean’s Eleven and as though it might be fun. Having finished this instalment, I not sure that “fun” is the word I’d use to describe it; in fact, it turned out to be rather silly, with a bunch of grown men acting and talking like hormonal, teenaged-boys, and a plot so thin as to be see-through.

Retriever of illicitly obtained information Charlie Bingham is dead, and in his will, he left instructions for his lawyer, Miranda Bosley (yes, really ;)) to bring together a disparate group of men – some of them criminals, some not – in order to carry out his last instructions in exchange for the destruction of the information Charlie held on each of them. In the previous book, The Pros & Cons of Vengeance, ex-Special Forces Close Protection specialist Steele Alvarez was instructed to take down a dirty Senator – and along with hacker Wesley Bond, grifter Carson Grieves, thief Ridge Pfeiffer and disgruntled FBI Agent Leo Shook – set about doing just that. Along the way, he and the team rescued two young ex-hookers – Breck and Danny – from a violent situation, and Steele fell for Breck (who happens to be Ridge’s brother). When this book opens, we find them all, together with the enigmatic housekeeper Josie (whom the author bills as an “International Woman of Mystery”), comfortably holed up in Charlie’s luxury home in Miami.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Mainly by Moonlight (Bedknobs and Broomsticks #1) by Josh Lanyon

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Can a witch avoid a murder rap without revealing the supernatural truth?

Cosmo Saville guiltily hides a paranormal secret from his soon-to-be husband. And if he can’t undo a powerful love spell, uncertainty threatens his nuptial magic. But when he’s arrested for allegedly killing a longtime rival, he could spend his honeymoon behind bars…

Police Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith never believed in love until Cosmo came along. Falling head over heels for the elegant antiques dealer is an enchantment he never wants to break. So when all fingers point to Cosmo’s guilt, John struggles to believe what his heart is telling him.

As Cosmo searches for the real killer among the arcane aristocracy, John warns him to leave it to the police. But with an unseen enemy threatening to expose Cosmo’s true nature, the couple’s blissful future could shatter like a broken charm.

Can Cosmo find the lost grimoire, clear his name and keep John’s love alive, or will black magic “rune” their wedding bells?

Rating: B

Josh Lanyon’s latest novel is kind of Adrien English meets Bewitched as the owner of an antique store (who also happens to be a witch) finds himself suspected of murder just a few days before his wedding to the city’s Police Commissioner.  Mainly by Moonlight is an enjoyable romp that’s perhaps a little more light-hearted than some of the author’s other novels – and as it’s the first in a trilogy, it sets up more questions than it answers, so don’t pick it up expecting everything to be cut and dried by the time you get to the last page.

For years, witch and antiques dealer Cosmo Saville has been trying to locate the Grimorium Primus, the first and most powerful of the Five Grimoires and an important family heirloom. When he receives a message from business rival Seamus Reitherman telling him he has the Grimorium in his possession, Cosmo goes to meet him at his store late one evening – only to find the man lying dead in a pool of blood. Panicked, Cosmo doesn’t have time to do much more than register that Seamus has been murdered (there’s a double-edged knife sticking out of his back) and notice the beginnings of a sacred symbol on the floor in yellow chalk above Seamus’ head before flashing lights and sirens herald the arrival of the police.  He’s immediately arrested – and then recognised as the police commissioner’s fiancé.  He’s taken to the police station where series of phone-calls eventually leads to the arrival of Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith (who has no idea that he’s engaged to a witch!), and to Cosmo’s release, although it’s clear that’s not the end of the matter.

As soon as he can, Cosmo goes to see his mother Estelle, Duchesse d’Abracadantès and next in line to be Crone – or Queen of the Witches – to tell her about the events of the previous night, only to have another bombshell dropped on him.  Like most of Cosmo’s friends, Estelle is not pleased about his plans to marry John, and when Cosmo expresses doubts as to whether the wedding will go ahead seeing as he’s a murder suspect and John is the commissioner of police, Estelle points out that John can’t change his mind because he’s under the power of a love spell – one which Estelle assumed Cosmo must have cast himself.

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

The Gift (Love in O’Leary #2) by May Archer (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma and Alexander Cendese

This title may be downloaded from Audible by Amazon

Daniel: I suck at relationships and don’t trust anyone, but there are reasons for that. For one thing, every person I’ve ever cared about has let me down. The only recent exception: O’Leary’s town veterinarian…my new best friend.

I came to O’Leary for a fresh start. To pare things down to essentials. To forget about the failures in my past. The last thing I need is complications, and most definitely not a boyfriend.

Julian: I’ve lived in O’Leary my entire life and learned to fly under the radar a long time ago. I do what’s expected, say what’s expected, and keep to myself as much as possible. It’s a hell of a lot simpler spending my time working with animals than trying to interact with actual people. The one unlikely exception: the gorgeous guy who moved to a cabin just outside of town and somehow became my best friend.

But friendships are complicated, and one morning I find myself accidentally telling the whole town the biggest lie of my life. Which is how Daniel Michaelson, my very straight, very hot best friend becomes my fake boyfriend, even though he’s most definitely not my lover.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content:C+

May Archer’s The Gift – the second book in her Love in O’Leary series – is a cute, low-drama, fake-relationship/GFY romance set in a small town in upstate New York where everyone seems to know everyone else and has their nose in everyone else’s business. That intrinsic busybody-ness is part of what sets this particular story in motion, when one member of the community, thinking to spare a friend from the gossip-mongers, basically announces to everyone in town that he (who is gay) and said friend (who is not) are romantically involved.

Daniel Michaelson moved to a small house in the woods outside O’Leary some months earlier after his big city life imploded and his career went tits-up. Wanting to get away from everything – his friends, his family and, most of all, reminders of his failure – he keeps himself to himself, travelling into O’Leary rarely and, unbeknownst to him, gaining himself a reputation as a bit of an oddball. Towards the end of the previous book in the series, that reputation caused the O’Learyans to become suspicious of him, the rumour mill even going so far as to suggest that he may have been involved with the recent disappearances of a couple of hikers – and it’s this suspicion that causes the town vet, Julian Ross, to give Daniel an alibi by telling everyone they’re a couple.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Digging Deep by Jay Hogan

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Drake Park has a complicated life. As a gay male midwife, he’s used to raising eyebrows. Add Crohn’s disease and things get interesting—or not, considering the sad state of his love life. Experience has taught Drake that most men are fair-weather sailors when it comes to handling his condition—gone for dust when things get rough. Staying healthy is a full-time job without adding in any heartbreak, so a little loneliness is a small price to pay. If he says it often enough he might even believe it. One thing for sure, the cop who arrested him isn’t about to change that.

Caleb Ashton does not have a complicated life. A senior detective with the Whangarei Police Department, he likes his job and is good at it. He works hard and plays hard, happy to enjoy as many men as he can while he’s still young enough—or at least he was. These days he feels adrift for the first time in his life, and the only thing sparking his interest—a certain prickly young midwife.

But can Drake find enough faith to risk opening his heart again? And does Caleb have what it takes to cope with the challenges Drake’s condition presents?

Rating: B+

Digging Deep is the first book I’ve read by New Zealander Jay Hogan, and I have to say I was pretty impressed.  In it, the author takes a long, hard look at how living with a chronic illness impacts on every single aspect of life for the person who has it and those around them, while at the same time developing a tender, sensual love story between two men who have a lot to learn about how to maintain a relationship under difficult and often debilitating circumstances.  Jay Hogan has clearly done her research when it comes to the disease itself (she acknowledges the input she received from many of those living with Crohn’s disease), and although there are times when the text gets a little bit info-dumpy, it never overwhelms the story or romance, and she injects a lot of humour into the tale while never belittling the disease or those who live with it.

Duck-Young Park (father, Korean, mother, Irish/Fijian) – who prefers to be called Drake – is a midwife who works in private practice in Whangarei in the Northland of NZ, alongside two close friends.  He loves his job and is very good at it; he has a great relationship with his colleagues and has a couple of clients he counts as friends, but other than them, his best friend, and his family – with whom he’s really close – he lives a fairly lonely life.  After his last relationship crashed and burned – his boyfriend of two years bailed when Drake had a fairly serious Crohn’s flare-up – he’s been cautious about getting involved again and has come to the conclusion that romance is not for him.  Staying healthy and the pressure that puts on him is hard enough; the last thing he needs is another broken heart over a guy who won’t stick around when the going gets tough.

Police officer Caleb Ashton makes no secret of the fact that he’s not interested in relationships.  He flits from casual fling to hook-up and back again, and likes it that way; he’s not boyfriend material anyway – he’s too selfish for that – and he’s content with the way things are.  His best friend is the glorious drag-queen, Carmen Bendover (otherwise known as Daniel when not in drag), he gets along really well with his work-partner, Leanne, and okay, so he’s not seen much of his family for the last couple of years, but that’s down to him… and he knows he really must make an effort.  He just hasn’t got round to it.

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

Triangulation (Borealis Investigations #2) by Gregory Ashe

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After a recent case with a treacherous client, North and Shaw are ready to go back to work building Borealis Investigations. They’re also ready to go back to dodging their feelings for each other, with neither man ready to deal with the powerful emotions the Matty Fennmore case stirred up. Everything is getting back to normal when their secretary asks for help: her girlfriend’s boss has gone missing.

Shep Collins runs a halfway house for LGBTQ kids and is a prominent figure in St. Louis’s gay community. When he disappears, however, dark truths begin to emerge about Shep’s past: his string of failed relationships, a problem with disappearing money, and his work, years before, as one of the foremost proponents of conversion therapy.

When Shep’s body turns up at the halfway house, the search for a missing person becomes the search for a murderer.

As North and Shaw probe for answers, they find that they are not the only ones who have come looking for the truth about Shep Collins. Their investigation puts them at odds with the police who are working the same case, and in that conflict, North and Shaw find threads leading back to the West End Slasher—the serial killer who almost took Shaw’s life in an alley seven years before. As the web of an ancient conspiracy comes to light, Shaw is driven to find answers, and North faces what might be his last chance to tell Shaw how he really feels.

Rating: A-

Gregory Ashe has become one of my favourite authors over the last year or so, and I’ve been longing to dive into Triangulation, the second book in his Borealis Investigations series ever since I turned the last page on the first book, Orientation, earlier this year.  I’m addicted to the blend of well-constructed mystery, complex, dysfunctional characters and angsty, slow-burn romance I’ve found in his novels; the plotting is tight and full of twists and turns, the romantic chemistry is combustible and his writing is wonderfully assured, ranging from the vividly descriptive to the lyrical, from grin-inducing humour to the pointedly insightful.

Although the mystery central to Orientation (which should be read first) was wrapped up by the end, events contained therein continue to have repercussions throughout Triangulation, so there will be spoilers in this review.

Triangulation picks up a few months after the previous book ended, and sees Borealis Investigations on a much firmer footing than it was when we first met North and Shaw, thanks to an upturn in business following their recent success in apprehending a blackmailer and murderer.  But the Fennmore case threw a ticking time-bomb into the middle the long-standing friendship between the two men, and the resulting wounds are still raw.  Neither of them is ready to admit to the shift in their relationship or work out what it means, even Shaw, who normally loves to talk things through; and North… well he most definitely doesn’t want to go there.

So on the surface at least, things are pretty much back to normal.  North grumbles and snarks his way through the days and Shaw is as upbeat and endearingly enthusiastic as ever.  When their assistant, Pari, asks them to look into the disappearance of her girlfriend’s boss, an LGBTQ youth worker and prominent figure in the St. Louis gay community, North isn’t wild about taking the case, especially when he learns that the man in question, Shep Collins, used to administer conversion therapy to gay teenaged boys.  But Pari’s girlfriend Chuck is distraught, and insists that Collins is a completely different man now; he’s out and married, the kids he works with love him and he sees his work now as a way of atoning for what he did in the past.  North doesn’t want to take the case… but as a result of one of those typical North-and-Shaw roundabout not-conversations, ends up ungraciously agreeing to do so.

North and Shaw start digging for information, and from the outset, they’re confronted with differing accounts of who Collins was and conflicting stories about his last known movements.  Nobody is telling the truth, even Chuck, who was worried enough about the man’s disappearance to hire Borealis to find him in the first place.  But when Collins’ body is found in the trunk of her car, things escalate quickly and Chuck is arrested for murder.  Determined to find out the truth, North and Shaw’s investigation leads them into direct conflict with members of St. Louis P.D.’s LGBT task force, and specifically with two of its detectives, whose interest in the case seems more focused on North and Shaw than on actually finding out who killed Shep Collins.

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

King Slayer (Fog City #2) by Layla Reyne

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Never fall for a mark. Mission fail.

Christopher Perri—a.k.a. Dante Perry—infiltrated the Madigan organization with one goal: vengeance for his murdered partner. Falling for the assassin at the head of the table wasn’t part of the plan, but Hawes Madigan is not the cold, untouchable Prince of Killers Chris expected. Everything about the newly crowned king is hot, and every inch of him eminently touchable…and off-limits once Chris’s cover is blown.

Exposure couldn’t come at a worse time. Hawes’s throne is threatened, and Chris suspects the same person who killed his partner is behind the coup. Working with Hawes benefits them both, but Chris’s employer has other ideas. Dismantling criminal organizations is what Chris does best, and his boss expects the King Slayer to deliver.

But Hawes is taking the Madigans in a new direction, one Chris can get behind, and the two men form a shaky alliance strengthened by the irresistible attraction between them…until Chris learns who killed his partner. Once he knows the truth, the King Slayer is unleashed, and Chris will stop at nothing to destroy those who betrayed him, including the king who stole his heart.

Rating: C+

King Slayer is the second book in Layla Reyne’s current Fog City trilogy about the Madigans, a powerful family in the criminal underworld of San Francisco.  For the past three years, owing to a massive change of heart by Hawes Madigan, the family has been cleaning up its act and getting out of the shadier side of the business, and in this, he’s aided by his twin brother, Holt, and their sister, Helena.

In book one – told entirely from Hawes’ PoV – we met the Madigan siblings, their formidable grandmother and police chief, Braxton Kane – who served in the military with Holt – and learned that someone was out to take down the Madigans – principally Hawes – and that whoever it is could be someone from within the operation who is unhappy with the direction Hawes is taking the business.  Private investigator Dante Perry confronted Hawes with those suspicions and, in Prince of Killers, started working alongside the Madigans, trying to work out who was behind the attempts on Hawes’ life and at destabilising the company.  Over the course of about a week, lots of shit went down and Hawes and Dante quickly acted on the mutual attraction that sizzled between them right from their first meeting.  Hawes was surprised to find himself so quickly coming to rely on Dante in spite of his siblings’ urging him to caution, but something about Dante drew him like a moth to a flame – and ultimately to getting burned when it was revealed at the end of the novel that Dante, aka ATF agent Christopher Perri – was pursuing his own agenda; he’d infiltrated the business and got close to Hawes in order to find the truth about the death of his partner three years earlier.

This instalment of the story picks up immediately where book one finished and the PoV switches to Dante/Chris (I’m going to refer to him as Chris from now on).  At this point, readers know the reason behind Hawes’ decision to start pulling back from the less legitimate operations of MCS (the ones that involve killing people!) and who killed Chris’ partner, but Chris and Hawes still have secrets to reveal and uncover; and it becomes clear that someone is manipulating the Madigans, Chris and Kane, and that Chris and Hawes need to work together if they’re going to find out exactly who that is. But can Chris convince Hawes to trust him, even a little, after his betrayal?  And besides, with their mutual desire and need for one another showing no sign of abating – if anything it’s growing stronger – what sort of future can there possibly be for an (ex) assassin and a Fed?

There’s a bit less action in this book, which focuses more on developing Chris’ character, introducing his family members, and showing why he’s so determined to find out who was responsible for the death of his partner, who was there for him at an incredibly difficult time in his life and kept him on an even keel when he was in danger of going off the rails. We see less of the Madigans in action – although I found seeing Hawes through Chris’ eyes gave him the edginess that was missing in the first book – but there are some exciting plot developments, and once again, we end on one helluva cliffhanger that certainly whets the appetite for the next instalment.

Layla Reyne certainly knows how to tell a good yarn, but I still find myself wishing for more depth in the characterisation, romance rather than insta-lust, and side-eyeing some of the more implausible parts of the story (techies/hackers in Ms. Reyne’s books seem able to do pretty much everything at the touch of a key and in ten seconds flat, for instance).  But there’s usually something about her books that intrigues me enough to make me want to keep reading them.  Which means she must be doing something right, I suppose – and I’ll be back for book three in the series.

Afraid to Fly (Anchor Point #2) by L.A. Witt (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Once a fearless fighter pilot, Commander Travis Wilson is now confined to a desk. It’s been eight years since the near-fatal crash that grounded him, and it still rules his life thanks to relentless back pain.

Lieutenant Commander Clint Fraser almost drowned in a bottle after a highly classified catastrophe while piloting a drone. His downward spiral cost him his marriage and kids, but he’s sober now and getting his life back on track. He’s traded drones for a desk, and he’s determined to reconcile with his kids and navigate the choppy waters of PTSD.

Clint has been on Travis’s radar ever since he transferred to Anchor Point. When Clint comes out to his colleagues, it’s a disaster, but there’s a silver lining: now that Travis knows Clint is into men, the chemistry between them explodes.

It’s all fun and games until emotions get involved. Clint’s never been in love with a man before. Travis has, and a decade later, that tragic ending still haunts him. Clint needs to coax him past his fear of crashing and burning again, or their love will be grounded before takeoff.

Rating: Narration: A; Content: B

The second book in L.A. Witt’s Anchor Point series of military romances, Afraid to Fly features two protagonists in their forties who have so many issues to deal with between them that at times, I couldn’t help wondering if there were too many.  But the fact that both men are a bit older than the norm for romance novels, are long-term military and have both seen active service made it more plausible that they’d have as much baggage as they do.

We met former pilot Commander Travis Wilson in the first book, Just Drive, and learned that he lives with chronic pain due to a back injury sustained in a crash some eight years earlier.  He’s been divorced for well over a decade and has a daughter of twenty who lives with him; since his divorce, he’s mostly had casual and short-term relationships (with both men and women) – apart from one relationship (with a man) ten years earlier which ended badly and has left him extremely cautious about falling in love again.

A former RAP (Remote Aircraft Pilot), Lieutenant Commander Clint Fraser transferred to Adams Naval Base fairly recently.  Three years before, he was involved in a mission that left him badly traumatised and ultimately led to the breakdown of his marriage; he turned to drink and became violent (though not to his wife and kids) and unpredictable. His divorce was messy and his wife has custody of their three children, but he’s doing better and hopes that in the not too distant future he’ll be able to see his kids for more than the odd Skype chat and supervised visit.

Clint and Travis work in the same office (though in different departments) and both men have had a bit of a crush on each other for a while, even though neither has the faintest idea if the other is into men.  That changes on the night of the Navy Ball, when Clint arrives with his date – a guy – and when Travis, in casual conversation, mentions a somewhat disastrous date with an ex-Marine.

It’s clear early on that Travis and Clint have great chemistry, and not long after the ball, they start seeing each other.  The bulk of the story is thus taken up by their working out how to be together given their health and other issues as they grow closer emotionally and start to think in terms of a making a life together.  As I said before, they have a lot of problems to deal with, problems that are part of their everyday lives and have to be taken into account every step of the way. Travis’ chronic pain has caused the end of more than one relationship as his partners grew frustrated, bored or irritated (or all three) with the way his life had to revolve around his pain management and with the limitations imposed upon him by his condition when it came to sex.  Clint’s PTSD still gives him violent nightmares regularly, which makes him nervous of spending the night with anyone, and he’s also battling the guilt he feels every day for the hell he put his wife and kids through.  Bringing him down still further is that he feels almost as though he’s not ‘entitled’ to be traumatised seeing as he was sitting in an air-conditioned room, thousands of miles away from a war zone when the incident which ended his career as a RAP took place, but the real kicker is that the mission is still classified and he can’t talk about it to anyone, not even the chaplain or a therapist. (I have no idea if this actually happens – if it does, then it’s a disgrace.)  All these things make Travis and Clint cautious about revealing the true extent of their issues for fear of scaring each other off, but as they spend more time together, they start to open up and to realise that they may just have found the one person in the world who can understand what they are each going through and how they can support each other through it.

Nick J. Russo is rapidly becoming a favourite narrator – I can’t think why I haven’t listened to him before this year!  Once again, he delivers a strong performance all round, providing distinct vocal characterisations for the two principals and the handful of secondary characters in the story.  He’s very good at pinpointing the emotional heart of any given scene, and does an excellent job of communicating the ups and downs experienced by Travis and Clint as they each open up and start to merge their lives.

Afraid to Fly is an enjoyable story – which isn’t devoid of heat, even taking Travis’ difficulties into account – which addresses both men’s health conditions in a sympathetic way without sugar-coating them.  I have to say though, that there’s a false note struck fairly late on in the story which feels like an obvious contrivance just to throw in a bit of tension before the end.  Fortunately, that doesn’t disrupt things for too long, and although there are a few questions I’d have liked answered (such as – will Clint get to see his kids again?) I was left hopeful for the couple’s future.