My 2018 in Books & Audio

My Goodreads stats for 2018 reveal that I read 256 books in 2018 (I challenged myself to 240, so I just passed that goal!) – although 108 of those were audiobooks.  I suspect, actually, that I listened to more than that, as I know I did a handful of re-listens, and I don’t tend to count those – I re-listen far more than I re-read (I don’t think I did any re-reads last year) – and I think that number of audiobooks is more than ever.  Although I have fifty-six 5 star rated books showing on my stats page, the actual 5 star/A grades only number around a dozen or so; the majority are 4.5 star reads that I rounded up or audiobooks in which either  story or narration (usually the narration) bumped the grade up into that bracket.  I say this because, despite that number of fifty-six, when I came to make my list of what I thought were the Best Books of 2018 for All About Romance, I didn’t have too much trouble making my list, whereas normally, I’ll have fifteen to twenty I could include and have a tough job to whittle it down.

4 star ratings were my largest group (153) – and these include the 4.5 star ratings I don’t round up (B+ books) and the 3.5 star ratings I do round up (B- books), and then I had thirty-three books and audiobooks in the 3 star bracket, nine in the 2 star, one 1 star and one unrated DNF.

The titles that made my Best of 2018 list are these:

You can read about them in more detail at All About Romance.

My Year in Books at Goodreads.

And here are a few more rambling thoughts about the books I read and the audiobooks I listened to last year.

Historical Romance

Historical Romance is far and away my favourite genre, and for years, I read very little else.  Sadly however, HR made a pretty poor showing in 2018 overall, and while there were a few that were excellent, they really were the exception.  The vast majority of the newer authors – and I do try most of them  at least once – can’t generally manage anything that deserves more than a C grade/3 stars (if that) and even some of the big-names just didn’t deliver.  Elizabeth Hoyt’s new series got off to a terrible start with Not the Duke’s Darling, which was overstuffed, confusing and not very romantic with an irritating heroine of the worst kind (the sort who has to trample all over the hero in order to prove herself).  Lorraine Heath’s When a Duke Loves a Womanwhich I listened to rather than read (thank you Kate Reading, for the excellent narration!) – stretched the cross-class romance trope to breaking point and was sadly dull in places, and Kerrigan Byrne’s sixth Victorian Rebels book, The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo was a huge disappointment.  On the plus side though, just before the end of the year, I read début author Mia Vincy’s A Wicked Kind of Husband which was clever, witty, poignant and sexy, and is the first début I’ve raved about since 2016.  Meredith Duran’s The Sins of Lord Lockwood was a triumph, and Caroline Linden’s two Wagers of Sin books – My Once and Future Duke and An Earl Like You – were very good – intelligent, strongly characterised and deeply romantic.  Of the two, I preferred An Earl Like You, a gorgeously romantic marriage of convenience story with a bit of a twist.  Honourable mentions go to Joanna Shupe’s A Notorious Vow, the third in her Four Hundred series, Virginia Heath’s A Warriner to Seduce Her and Stella Riley’s Hazard, and my two favourite historical mystery series – Lady Sherlock and Sebastian St. Cyr (Sherry Thomas and C.S. Harris respectively) had wonderful new instalments out.  K.J. Charles – who can’t seem to write a bad book! – published three titles – The Henchmen of Zenda, Unfit to Print and Band Sinister – all of which I loved and rated highly, and new author, Lee Welch gobsmacked me with her first full-length novel, an historical paranormal (queer) romance, Salt Magic, Skin Magic, a truly mystical, magical story with a sensual romance between opposites.   Bec McMaster’s terrific London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy continued with You Only Love Twice and To Catch a Rogue, which were wonderful; fast-paced, intelligent and witty, combining high-stakes plots and plenty of action with steamy, sensual romances.

Romantic Suspense

I’ve turned most often to romantic suspense this year to fill the void left by the paucity of good historical romance – many of them in audio as I backtracked through audio catalogues and got hooked on some series that first appeared before 2018, notably Cut & Run and Psycop.  In print, I was really impressed with Charlie Adhara’s first two novels in her Big Bad Wolf series, The Wolf at the Door and The Wolf at Bay. I’m not a big fan of shifters, but a friend convinced me to try the first book, and I’m really glad I did.  There’s a great suspense plot, two fabulous leads with off-the-charts chemistry, and their relationship as they move from suspicion to admiration to more is really well done.

The final book in Rachel Grant’s Flashpoint trilogy – Firestorm – was a real humdinger and fantastic end to what’s been one of my favourite series over the past couple of years.  Superbly written and researched, topical, fast-paced and featuring fabulously developed characters, Firestorm sees two characters who’ve been dancing around each other for two books having to team up to infiltrate a Russian arms dealing ring, and, when things go south, going on the run in one of the most dangerous places in the world. Ms. Grant is one of my favourite authors and her romantic suspense novels are hard to beat.

My big – and I mean BIG – discovery this year was Cordelia Kingsbridge’s Seven of Spades series which is simply brilliant – addictive.  I’ve raved about it to everyone that will listen (sorry!) and will do so again.  It’s a series of five books (four are out, the fifth is due in March) that tells one overarching story about the search for a clever, devious serial killer plaguing Las Vegas.  Each book advances that plotline while also having another, self-contained storyline that eventually coalesces with the main plot; it’s incredibly well done and the plots themselves are filled with nail-biting tension.  The two central characters – Levi Abrams, a tightly-wound, intense homicide detective – and Dominic Russo – a congenial, much more relaxed guy who has serious problems of his own – are wonderful;  they’re complex, flawed and multi-faceted, and while they’re complete opposites in many ways, they’re no less perfect for each other because of it.  Their relationship goes through terrific  highs and terrible lows, but as we head into the last book, they’re stronger than ever – and I can’t wait for what promises to be an incredible series finale.

Contemporary Romance isn’t a genre I gravitate towards, but for what I think is the first time EVER,  one made my Best of list – Sally Malcolm’s Between the Lines.  I’ve really enjoyed the three books she’s set in New Milton (a fictional Long Island resort); in fact, her novella, Love Around the Corner could easily have made the list as well.  She has a real gift for creating likeable but flawed characters and for writing emotion that sings without being over the top.  And I have to give a shout-out to Kelly Jensen’s This Time Forever series, three books that feature older (late thirties-fifty) characters finding happiness and their forever afters – wonderful, distinct characters, each facing particular challenges and the need to sort out all the emotional baggage that comes with having been around the block a few times.

Audio

I listened to more audiobooks than ever this year – partly, I think, because I was trying to fill the gap in my reading because so much HR was just not measuring up, and partly because the fact that I tend to genre-hop more in audio has introduced me to a number of new (to me) narrators that I’ve begun to seek out more. (Plus, I’ve had some long commutes lately!)  My favourites are still my favourites: Rosalyn Landor, Kate Reading, Mary Jane Wells, Alex Wyndham and Nicholas Boulton are unbeatable when it comes to historical romances; Andi Arndt reigns supreme when it comes to American contemps, Steve West could read me cereal packets and Greg Tremblay/Boudreaux is my hero. But my list of narrators to trust has grown to include J.F. Harding, Sean Crisden, Joe Arden, Carly Robbins, Saskia Maarleveld and Will Damron.

I’ve become hooked on m/m romantic suspense this year, and have been catching up with two long-running series – Cut & Run by Abigail Roux and Madeline Urban and Psycop by Jordan Castillo Price. The Cut & Run books are fast-paced hokum, the sort of thing you see in a lot of procedurals and action films – enjoyable, but frequently full of holes.  But the series is made by its two central characters – Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett – who strike sparks off each other from the get go and fight, snark and fuck their way through nine books I enjoyed to differing degrees.  Unusually, the series has three narrators; the first one (Sawyer Allerde) wasn’t so great, but Sean Crisden and J.F. Harding do fabulous work in books 3-9, and while I know there’s a lot of mixed feeling out there over the later books, I’d still recommend them and the series in audio.

I’ve also been drawn to a number of books that feature psychics in some way or another – I have no idea why – and again, some were more successful than others.  I enjoyed Z.A. Maxfield’s The Long Way Home – which is excellently narrated by J.F Harding – and I’m working my way through Jordan Castillo Price’s hugely entertaining Psycop series (I’ve listened to 6 books so far) narrated by Gomez Pugh who doesn’t just portray, but completely inhabits the character of Victor Bayne, the endearingly shambolic protagonist of the series. I plan to listen to the final three books very soon.

Contemporary Romance is a genre I rarely read and don’t listen to often, as it doesn’t do much for me in general.  Nonetheless, I’ve listened to a few great contemporary audios in 2018, several of them in Annabeth Albert’s Out of Uniform series, notably Squared Away and Tight Quarters, the latter being one of my favourites. Greg Boudreaux’s narration was the big draw for me in picking up this series on audio (although books 1-3 use different narrators) and he continues to be one of the best – if not THE best – male romance narrators around. The praise heaped on Kate Clayborn’s début, Beginner’s Luck prompted me to pick it up in audio, although I confess that Will Damron’s name attached to it factored into that decision as well.  Helen Hoang’s début, The Kiss Quotient was another contemp that generated a huge buzz, which again, prompted me to listen – and the fact that I’d enjoyed Carly Robins’ performance in Beginner’s Luck once again proved the power of the narrator when it comes to my decisions as to what I want to listen to.


As for what I’m looking forward to in 2019?  First of all, I’d like a few more winners from my favourite historical romance writers, please!  Although to be honest, it’s looking a bit bleak, with Meredith Duran on hiatus, and only one – I think? – book due from Caroline Linden this year.  I am, however, looking forward to reading more from Mia Vincy, who has three more books in her series to come, and I’ve already read a fantastic book by K.J. Charles – I believe there’s a sequel on the way, which I’m sure will be equally fabulous.  I can’t wait for the finale in the Seven of Spades series – and for whatever Cordelia Kingsbridge comes up with next, and the same is true of Charlie Adhara, whose final Big Bad Wolf book is due out in April.  There are new books in their respective series coming from Sherry Thomas and C.S. Harris, so I’ll be there for those, and I’m looking forward to Deanna Raybourn’s next Veronica Speedwell book.  Audio often lags behind print, so many of the audiobooks I’m eagerly awaiting are books I read in print this year, such as Amy Lane’s A Few Good Fish (which I read in August) with Greg Tremblay once again doing the honours, and Lee Welch’s Salt Magic, Skin Magic, performed by Joel Leslie, who I’m sure is going to be terrific.  I’m also looking forward to the final book in Kate Clayborn’s Chance of a Lifetime Trilogy, Best of Luck, again narrated by Will Damron and Carly Robbins.

Hopefully, I’ll be back this time next year to let you all know how things have panned out!

Silent Evidence (Evidence #8) by Rachel Grant

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The man of her fantasies is finally hers. Sort of…

Two things haunt forensic anthropologist Hazel MacLeod: the bones of victims of genocide she examines for her work, and former SEAL Sean Logan’s rejection. But within days of moving to her cousin’s estate to take a much needed break, she finds herself faced with both.

First, she’s called in to examine a mass grave in Virginia, then, her politician cousin receives a threatening letter and insists Hazel needs around the clock protection–from none other than Sean Logan. To make matters worse, because the threat to her is classified, Hazel and Sean must pretend to be lovers to hide that he’s her bodyguard.

Sean has spent years trying to avoid his boss’s sexy cousin, but now he’s guarding her twenty-four seven and even bringing her as his date to a romantic destination wedding. As the heat between them intensifies, Sean can’t lose sight of the danger that brought them together. But when bullets start flying, new questions arise. Are the senator’s political rivals really behind the threat, or is someone trying to silence Hazel from speaking for the dead?

Rating: B-

Rachel Grant is my favourite author of romantic suspense and her recent Flashpoint series has been amazing; action-packed, steamy, topical stories featuring complex, engaging characters and edge-of-your-seat plots that have never failed to pull me in and keep me glued to the pages from start to finish.  Now that series is finished (or maybe just on hiatus?), the author has returned to the world of her Evidence series to bring us book eight, Silent Evidence, which once again features a heroine whose area of expertise is related to archaeology (in this case, she’s a forensic anthropologist) and a hero who is a member of Raptor, the high-end private security firm owned by former Army Ranger – now US Senator – Alec Ravissant.  While the plotlines in most of the other books in the series more or less stand alone, Silent Evidence is very strongly linked to earlier stories – particularly Incriminating Evidence (book four) and Poison Evidence (book seven), and I suspect that much of the impact of this story may be lost on anyone who hasn’t at the very least read those books before tackling this one.

Dr. Hazel MacLeod – sister of Ivy from Poison Evidence – has just returned from Croatia where she spent several months working for the International Commission on Missing Persons, examining the remains of the victims of war and genocide.  Not surprisingly, that work has badly affected her mental health, and she had begun to experience nightmares and panic attacks before coming back to the US.   While she recuperates and works out what she wants to do next, she’s staying at the home of her cousin Alec Ravissant and his wife Isabel, an archaeologist.  Isabel is currently working on a time-sensitive assignment, inspecting and recording finds at the site of a drained reservoir before repairs are made, and the discovery of a pile of bones in the water means she needs expert help.  She asks Hazel to come out to the site to confirm these are human remains – and once there, Hazel is appalled to realise that the small pile she’d been called to look at is just the tip of the iceberg, and that there are thousands of bones there, thousands of bones that belong to at least two dozen individuals… a mass grave.

Sean Logan is Raptor’s top operative and one of Alec’s most trusted friends. So when Alec calls him and asks him – without explanation – to get out to the site and bring Isabel home, he’s curious, but doesn’t stop to question and makes his way out there immediately.  On arrival, he’s stunned to recognise the auburn-haired woman standing with Isabel; he hadn’t even known Hazel MacLeod, subject of many an inappropriate fantasy, was back in the states.

Later, Alec reveals why he’d sent Sean to escort Isabel home.  A man in his position gets hate mail and death threats on a regular basis and most of the time they’re insignificant, but he’s recently received one that indicates knowledge of certain events in Alec, Isabel’s and Hazel’s pasts which lead him to take this particular threat seriously.  He’s unable to share details with them because there’s an implication for national security, but they all know Alec, and know that he wouldn’t be telling them anything unless he was genuinely worried.

The immediate problem – and why he’s brought Sean into the mix – is that he and Isabel, along with a large group of friends – are headed to a wedding at the weekend, and Alec doesn’t want to leave Hazel alone.  He insists she accompany them, but Hazel demurs, protesting that she doesn’t know the bride or groom (Cressida and Ian from book five, Covert Evidence) and doesn’t want to crash their wedding, but Alec has that covered and won’t listen to her protests.  Sean is the best man, and Hazel can go with him as his date.

Hazel isn’t keen on the idea, but not because she doesn’t like Sean; in fact, she likes him way too much for her peace of mind, and is worried that having to pose as his girlfriend will tip everyone off to that fact.  Added to this is her lingering embarrassment over an incident some months earlier when she propositioned him and he turned her down; she’s not comfortable around him and can’t see how such a charade can possibly work.

I generally like fake-relationship stories and I was all set to enjoy this one from a favourite author, but something about it didn’t work for me.  For one thing, the mental lusting on both sides – because of course Sean didn’t rebuff Hazel because he wasn’t interested – is pretty excessive, and for another, Sean is so blow-hot-blow-cold towards her that his lightning quick switches between ‘full steam ahead’ and ‘this can’t happen’ made me dizzy.  And he’s not the only one; literally minutes after Hazel tells him he’s not getting any (after he tells her he’s not interested in anything other than sex), they’re shagging  against a tree in the woods.  I know Ms. Grant is capable of creating fabulous sexual tension between her protagonists, but it just didn’t happen here; I liked the idea of Sean and Hazel when Hazel was introduced at the end of Poison Evidence, but their romance is underdeveloped and seems to be based almost wholly on physical attraction and mutual lust.

The suspense plot –when it gets going – is as well thought out and intriguing as ever, and the author highlights a number of very relevant issues with insight and sensitivity.  I was pleasantly surprised when the plot turned out to have links back to the experimental technology that featured in Incriminating Evidence, and I was also glad to see Matthew – aka Dmitri Veselov, from the previous book – playing a major role, as I have a bit of a soft spot for him 😉  But on the downside, all this doesn’t really get going until around two-thirds of the way through; in previous books, the suspense plot and the romance have been really well woven together and have progressed alongside one another but here, after the initial set up, the romance takes centre stage while the plot treads water for a bit, which isn’t normally the case with this author.  There’s a fair bit of padding in the first parts of the novel, and I came away from it thinking that it might have worked better as a novella.

To sum up, Silent Evidence is a bit of a mixed bag, and my final grade is a compromise. Had the whole novel been in the same vein as the final third, I’d have been awarding at least a B grade, but unfortunately, that’s dragged down because the romance didn’t convince me and while the suspense plot was enjoyable, it wasn’t enough to carry a full length-novel. I’m  a big fan of Rachel Grant’s and will be snapping up whatever she comes up with next, but sadly, Silent Evidence isn’t going down as one of my favourites.

Firestorm (Flashpoint #3) by Rachel Grant (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Tremblay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

CIA covert operator Savannah James is after intel on a potential coup in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but she needs a partner fluent in Lingala to infiltrate the organization.

Sergeant First Class Cassius Callahan is the perfect choice, except he doesn’t like her very much. He doesn’t trust her, either, despite the sparks that flare between them, fierce and hot. Still, he accepts the assignment, even though their cover requires Savvy to pose as his mistress.

They enter battle-worn Congo to expose the financing for the coup. A trail of cobalt, gold, and diamonds leads them into the heart of darkness, a jungle in which everyone is desperate to find the mother lode of ore and gems. Betrayal stalks them as they follow the money, but Savvy will stop at nothing to bring down the would-be dictator before he can ignite a firestorm that will engulf all of Africa.

Deep in the sultry rain forest, spy and Green Beret forge a relationship more precious than diamonds, but Cal knows Savvy is willing to sacrifice anything – or anyone – to complete her mission. As they near the flash point, Cal will have to save her from the greatest threat of all: herself.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – A

I had the same feeling when I finished listening to Firestorm (book three in Rachel Grant’s Flashpoint series) as I did when I finished reading the novel a few weeks back – the urge to stand up, applaud and yell “bravo!” – because it is easily one of the best romantic suspense novels I’ve ever listened to. It’s also a story I’ve been waiting for since the series began; Sergeant First Class Cassius ‘Cal’ Callahan and CIA operative Savannah James have been striking sparks off each other for two books now, and in Firestorm they get their chance to kick ass, take names, and burn up the sheets. (And then some).

Both Savvy and Cal were prominent secondary characters in the other books, and it’s been clear from the off that while Cal doesn’t particularly like Savvy, he’s strongly attracted to her – and that the reverse is true. Savannah is the resident “spook” at the military base at Camp Citron in Djibouti, and pretty much everyone on base views her with suspicion; she’s widely rumoured to be with the CIA, but nobody knows for sure. Whatever her affiliation though, there’s no question she’s extremely competent and is completely focused on getting the job done, no matter what the cost. This ruthlessness is one of the things about her that Cal dislikes intensely; he believes she’ll sacrifice anything and anyone in pursuit of her goals – plus he has his own reasons for being wary of the CIA. So when his commanding officer tells him that Savvy has requested his services for a sensitive operation, he’s not eager to sign up.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

YOU CAN ENTER THE GIVEAWAY AT AUDIOGALS – THERE ARE TWO COPIES OF FIRESTORM UP FOR GRABS – UNTIL WEDS 8th AUGUST.

Firestorm (Flashpoint #3) by Rachel Grant


This title may be purchased from Amazon

CIA covert operator Savannah James is after intel on a potential coup in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but she needs a partner fluent in Lingala to infiltrate the organization. Sergeant First Class Cassius Callahan is the perfect choice, except he doesn’t like her very much. He doesn’t trust her, either, despite the sparks that flare between them, fierce and hot. Still, he accepts the assignment even though their cover requires Savvy to pose as his mistress.

They enter battle-worn Congo to expose the financing for the coup. A trail of cobalt, gold, and diamonds leads them into the heart of a jungle in which everyone is desperate to find the mother lode of ore and gems. Betrayal stalks them as they follow the money, but Savvy will stop at nothing to bring down the would-be dictator before he can ignite a firestorm that will engulf all of Africa.

Deep in the sultry rainforest, spy and Green Beret forge a relationship more precious than diamonds, but Cal knows Savvy is willing to sacrifice anything—or anyone—to complete her mission. As they near the flashpoint, Cal will have to save her from the greatest threat of all: herself.

Rating: A

I’ve been eager to get my hands on Firestorm, the third book in Rachel Grant’s gripping Flashpoint series, for months – and it was definitely worth the wait.  This is one high-octane, high-stakes ride; steamy, complex, intricately plotted, politically astute and emotionally fraught, Firestorm is easily one of the best romantic suspense novels I’ve read in ages and Ms. Grant is clearly an author at the top of her game.

All the books in the series have been set in and around the fictional US base of Camp Citron on the outskirts of Djibouti.  The series is called Flashpoint for a very good reason; the stories take place in some of the most dangerous places in the world (the Horn of Africa, Sudan and Congo), which are – literally – potential flashpoints that turn on a knife-edge; unstable regions and countries open to exploitation by influences both foreign and domestic.  In this story, most of the action takes place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the Russian-backed dictator-in-waiting, Jean Paul Lubanga, is planning to seize power and gain control of the country’s massive wealth in diamonds, minerals and uranium oxide.  Russian control of the DRC would destabilise the already precarious political situation in Central Africa, and most worrying of all, the likely supply of uranium to places like Syria and Iran could be the first step towards World War Three.  The stakes couldn’t be higher, and Camp Citron’s resident ‘spook’, Savannah James, has been tasked with finding out exactly how close Lubanga is to staging a coup.

Savannah – Savvy –  has been a prominent secondary character throughout the series, a coolly enigmatic and ruthless (when called for) woman who is believed throughout the camp to be working for the CIA, although nobody knows for sure.  She’s frighteningly competent and utterly dedicated to getting the job done by whatever means necessary –and sometimes those means aren’t pretty.  Most of the people on camp dislike her and give her a wide berth, although she’s found an ally of sorts in Master Sergeant Pax Blanchard (hero of Tinderbox, book one) and Chief Warrant Officer Sebastian Ford (hero of Catalyst, book two), the latter in spite of the fact that she ordered Bastian to seduce his now-fiancée, Brie Stewart, in order to gain information about the links between Brie’s family and the Russian mafia.  The one man in Bastian and Pax’s circle who makes no attempt to hide his dislike of Savvy is Sergeant First Class Cassius Callahan (Cal); that he also happens to be the one man Savvy wants at her back as she infiltrates a gathering comprising some of the most dangerous men in the world is not about to make life any easier for either of them.

There’s been a strong undercurrent of lust and sexual tension humming between Savvy and Cal since book one; they’re not exactly in denial, they both know they’re intensely attracted to one another, but neither is very happy about it and they keep their distance as far as possible.  But that’s going to be impossible if Cal accepts the mission Savvy outlines; the only way she will be able to gain access to the party being thrown by Radimir Gorov is if she turns up hanging on the arm of an obviously powerful, ambitious and dangerous man.  Which is where Cal comes in.

“Warlords and oligarchs will never accept a woman at the table unless she’s there as a toy… you’re the businessman.  I’ll be your sex toy.”

Cal and Savvy are both strong, likeable, highly intelligent characters who share an intense dedication to doing what’s right and are driven to protect those they care for and those less fortunate.  Savvy is tough as nails and is as highly trained as any special forces operative, yet she has faced – and continues to face – sexism and misogyny, even from those who are supposed to have her back.  When she realises the extent of the manipulation to which she has been subjected by someone she’d trusted implicitly, it’s an excruciating – and ultimately life-threatening – betrayal that sees her and Cal running for their lives.

This is a very personal mission for Cal.  The son of a Congolese mother and American father, his aunt and female cousins were raped and murdered by soldiers in the Second Congo War, and his male cousins disappeared; to this day it’s not known whether they died or have become part of the same rebel group that killed his aunt and her daughters.  Cal may have been born in the US, but there’s no denying the strong kinship he feels with his mother’s homeland, and he’s just as determined as Savvy to strike a blow against the would-be interlopers and criminals who want to strip the Congo of its resources and autonomy.

The fake-relationship trope is perhaps a bit of an overdone premise in this particular genre, but be assured it’s only a springboard for what follows. There is much, MUCH more to this novel than the scorching sexual chemistry between the two leads; we’re plunged straight into a multi-layered story full of danger and nail-biting tension while at the same time we’re seeing the layers of suspicion and distrust built up by both Savvy and Cal being slowly peeled away to reveal the true nature and depth of their feelings for one another.  The author has created compelling and rich personal stories for both protagonists, and, as usual, doesn’t shy away from referring to the atrocities and corruption that are every day occurrences in this part of the world.

I never fail to be impressed by Ms. Grant’s impeccable research and her ability to construct a sophisticated, topical and perfectly paced story that grabs me from page one and pushes me closer to the edge of my seat with each chapter.  Firestorm is a real treat for lovers of romantic suspense; great characters with off-the-charts chemistry, a tender romance, a powerfully compelling plot full of dramatic twists and turns, and one of those against-all-odds finales that has you jumping up and down and punching the air when the good guys triumph over evil.  I think this is the last book in the series and I’m certainly sorry to see it end –although you can colour me intrigued by the little glimpse we’re given of what we might have to look forward to next.

Firestorm is romantic suspense done right and to the max. Don’t miss it.

The Best of 2017 – My Favourite Books of Last Year.

It’s something of a tradition to put together a “favourite books of the year” list around Christmas and New Year – I’m a little late with mine this year, but here’s the Best of 2017 list I put together for All About Romance.  Did any of them make your Best Books of 2017 list?

I had to make some really tough choices – here are some of the books that also deserved a place on the list, but which I just couldn’t fit in!

Poison Evidence (Evidence #7) by Rachel Grant (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicol Zanzarella

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

It was supposed to be paradise….

Ivy MacLeod has the perfect opportunity to test her advanced remote sensing technology: mapping a World War II battle site in the islands of Palau. The project is more than an all-expenses-paid trip to paradise. It’s also an opportunity to distance her reputation from her traitorous ex-husband.

But foreign intelligence agencies will kill to possess her invention, and paradise turns deadly when her ex-husband’s vicious allies attack. In desperation, she turns to Air Force pilot Jack Keaton. But is he the bigger threat? Jack might be protecting her as he claims…or he could be a foreign agent. Her compass is skewed by his magnetic pull and further thrown off when she learns her own government has betrayed her.

Stranded on a tropical island with a man whose motives remain a mystery, Ivy must decide who is the spy, who is the protector, and who is the ultimate villain. She longs to trust the man who rescued her, but she’s risking more than her heart. Choose right, and she saves her country’s secrets – and her life. Choose wrong – and she risks nothing short of all-out war.

Rating: Narration – B+: Content – A-

Note: In my review of Cold Evidence, I mentioned that there was a teeny bit of a cliffhanger at the end, which would play out in the next book. Because the two stories are linked by this plot point and a few recurring characters, there will be some small spoilers for Cold Evidence in this review.

Rachel Grant is – in case it’s not obvious by now – my go-to author for romantic suspense. She’s got the knack of getting the balance between romance and plot just right; the pacing in her books is spot on, just the right mix of fast-paced action and calmer periods of reflection or love scenes, and her characters are strong, likeable and easy to root for. In this series, she’s drawn strongly on her background as an historian and archaeologist, and many of her characters work in those professions, as marine archaeologists, military historians and the like, all of which I find fascinating. In Poison Evidence, the seventh book in the Evidence series, we meet Ivy MacLeod, a highly intelligent, self-confessed tech-geek with a passion for geological and geographical archaeology, who works for NHHC (Naval History and Heritage Command) and whose latest invention – a complex computerised mapping system using infrared and Lidar she nicknames CAM – is about to undergo its first field test in the small Pacific island nation of Palau.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Cold Evidence (Evidence #6) by Rachel Grant (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicol Zanzarella

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The only thing Navy underwater archaeologist Undine Gray fears more than facing former SEAL Luke Sevick is never scuba diving again. But when a dive on a Cold War-era US Navy submarine ends with an accidental explosion, she’s terrified of going into the deep, forcing her to beg the most experienced diver she knows to take her back to the bottom of the cold Salish Sea.

Luke wants nothing to do with the woman who destroyed his career a dozen years ago but finds it impossible to turn his back on her plea. Caught off guard by an attraction he doesn’t want to feel, he’s eager to be done with this mission of mercy. But when they dive on the wreck, he only gets sucked in deeper. Someone has been digging on the Navy sub…and it appears the explosion that almost killed Undine was no accident.

To find the truth, Undine must navigate murky waters and the unexpectedly hot undercurrents swirling between her and Luke. Worse, divers are searching for something lost in US waters during the Cold War, and they’ll do anything to keep Luke and Undine from finding it first.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

Cold Evidence is number six in Rachel Grant’s seven-book (so far) Evidence series of romantic suspense novels. I’ve yet to read or listen to every instalment, but those I’ve got to so far have proved to be immensely enjoyable, complex and action-packed stories featuring hot-as-hell heroes and feisty (in a good way) heroines who don’t take any crap. The romances are nicely steamy and well integrated into the main storylines, and for me, the balance between romance and suspense is just about perfect. Cold Evidence does feature some recurring characters but like all the books in the series, it can be enjoyed as a standalone – although there is a bit of a cliff-hanger at the end which leads into the next book, Poison Evidence. Don’t worry though, it’s more by way of a teaser; the suspense storyline and HEA are happily resolved, so you can safely listen to this without fear of frustration!

Underwater archaeologist Undine Gray is working on a project to salvage the USS Wrasse, an old US submarine that sank off the coast of Seattle during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, taking a number of its former crewmembers with it; men who had served aboard her in World War Two and who had volunteered to take her to her final resting place, not knowing it would become theirs, too.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.