A Ferry of Bones and Gold (Soulbound #1) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When the gods come calling, you don’t get to say no.

Patrick Collins is three years into a career as a special agent for the Supernatural Operations Agency when the gods come calling to collect a soul debt he owes them. An immortal has gone missing in New York City and bodies are showing up in the wake of demon-led ritual killings that Patrick recognizes all too easily from his nightmares.

Unable to walk away, Patrick finds himself once again facing off against mercenary magic users belonging to the Dominion Sect. Standing his ground alone has never been a winning option in Patrick’s experience, but it’s been years since he’s had a partner he could trust.

Looking for allies in all the wrong places, Patrick discovers the Dominion Sect’s next target is the same werewolf the Fates themselves have thrown into his path. Patrick has been inexplicably attracted to the man from their first meeting, but desire has no place in war. That doesn’t stop Patrick from wanting what he shouldn’t have. Jonothon de Vere is gorgeous, dangerous, and nothing but trouble – to the case, to the fight against every hell, and ultimately, to Patrick’s heart and soul.

In the end, all debts must be paid, and Patrick can only do what he does best – cheat death.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: B

I’ve been snapping up and enjoying the audiobooks in Hailey Turner’s military/sci-fi Metahumans series and was pleased to discover that last year, the author had begun a new Urban Fantasy series called Soulbound, set in and around a recognisably familiar New York City and featuring characters with magical and supernatural abilities. I added book one, A Ferry of Bones and Gold, to my TBR mountain but surprise, surprise, haven’t got to it yet, so I was delighted to see it come out in audiobook format with Gary Furlong – a narrator I enjoy listening to – at the helm.

Patrick Collins, a mage working for the Supernatural Operations Agency (which seems to be a kind of supernatural FBI), isn’t pleased when he gets a call from his boss cancelling his vacation and sending him instead to New York City, where a spate of ritualistic killings (the bodies are mutilated and have astrological symbols carved into their eyelids) seems to be ramping up as the Summer Solstice approaches. A former combat mage-turned-supernatural law enforcement agent, Patrick is assigned to investigate the most recent murders and immediately senses the presence of dark, demonic magic pointing to the involvement of the Dominion Sect, a cult set on stealing the godhood from one of the ancient gods and then transferring it to their leader.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Undue Influence by Jenny Holiday (audiobook) – Narrated by Michael Fell

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Second chances only come around once.

Eight years ago, Adam Elliot made the biggest mistake of his life. Now that mistake is coming back to haunt him. His family’s beloved vineyard has gone into foreclosure, and the new owner is the sister of the only man he’s ever loved – the man he dumped under pressure from family and friends who thought the match was beneath him.

When Freddy Wentworth, aka the bad boy of Bishop’s Glen, left town with a broken heart, he vowed never to return. But a recently widowed friend needs his help, so here he is. He’s a rich and famous celebrity chef now, though, so everyone can just eff right off.

But some things are easier said than done. Despite their attempts to resist each other, old love rekindles – and old wounds reopen. If they want to make things work the second time around, they’ll have to learn to set aside their pride – and prejudice.

Rating: Narration: B-; Content: B

I read and enjoyed Jenny Holiday’s Undue Influence when it came out last year, and having also enjoyed Michael Fell’s performance in Infamous, I was looking forward to listening to their next collaboration. The novel is a contemporary reworking of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, set in the small town of Bishop’s Glen in upstate New York and in it, our parted lovers are Adam Elliot, the son of a wealthy family of winemakers, and town bad-boy Freddy Wentworth. Undue Influence can be enjoyed regardless of whether you’re familiar with the original; and if you are, you’ll enjoy spotting the key plot points and characters the author has carried over and how they’ve been adapted.

Adam Elliot is spending the evening at the family home on the Kellynch Estate for the final time. His father’s death five years earlier, followed by his mother and sister’s insistence on ignoring the worsening state of their finances and spending lavishly, has run their winery business into the ground, and now they’re broke and have been forced to sell up. But even now, the ladies continue to act as though nothing is wrong and are planning a prolonged stay with an old friend in the Hamptons. Adam, however, is perfectly happy to remain in Bishop’s Glen, even though leaving Kellynch is going to be a real wrench for him. He’s always had a strong affinity for the land, and that affinity is what’s kept him in Bishop’s Glen in spite of the constant nagging by his friend and mentor, Rusty Anderson, to leave town and make something of his life.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Arctic Wild (Frozen Hearts #2) by Annabeth Albert

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Hotshot attorney Reuben Graham has finally agreed to take a vacation, when his plane suddenly plunges into the Alaskan wilderness.

Just his luck.

But his frustrations have only begun as he finds himself stranded with the injured, and superhot, pilot, a man who’s endearingly sociable—and much too young for Reuben to be wanting him this badly.

As the sole provider for his sisters and ailing father, Tobias Kooly is devastated to learn his injuries will prevent him from working or even making it back home. So when Reuben insists on giving him a place to recover, not even Toby’s pride can make him refuse. He’s never been tempted by a silver fox before, but something about Reuben is impossible to resist.

Recuperating in Reuben’s care is the last thing Toby expected, yet the closer they become, the more incredibly right it feels, prompting workaholic Reuben to question the life he’s been living. But when the pressure Toby’s under starts closing in, both men will have to decide if there’s room in their hearts for a love they never saw coming.

Rating: B+

Arctic Wild, book two in Annabeth Albert’s Frozen Hearts series, is a gently moving, slow-burn romance between two very different men who find themselves re-evaluating their lives following an almost fatal accident.  There are places where perhaps the pacing could have been a little faster and the focus a little sharper, but I really liked the way the romance developed and how the author explored the dynamics between the leads and the secondary characters/family members who also appear in the story.

Workaholic corporate lawyer Reuben Graham has been persuaded to take a long-overdue vacation with a couple of friends when a last minute change sees him heading off to Alaska on his own.  He’d much rather just have cancelled, but was pretty much guilted into going and anyway, he’s got plenty of work with him so when there’s no decent  internet connection he’ll just hunker down and read all that paperwork he’s got piled up.  With any luck, his guide will be some “grizzled old mountain man pilot”  who is disinclined to talk and will leave Reuben to work in peace.  But he’s out of luck in that department and is instead greeted by a gorgeously attractive, vivacious, younger (too young for him, anyway) man who definitely doesn’t seem as though he’s the strong silent type.

Pilot and tour guide Toby Kooly (whom we met briefly in the previous book, Arctic Sun) is very good at what he does. Personable, informative and fun, he genuinely enjoys making sure his clients are having a good time and doing whatever he can to help them make the most of what is generally a once-in-a-lifetime experience.   But on meeting Reuben Graham he instantly senses the man is going to prove something of a challenge; he obviously isn’t particularly enthusiastic about being there and seems resistant to enjoying himself.  And he presents another sort of challenge, too; older guys don’t normally do it for Toby, but something about this tall, distinguished silver fox – no, silver bear – with the broad shoulders and the commanding presence most definitely turns his crank. But hooking up with clients isn’t something he makes a habit of, so he pushes temptation aside and concentrates on doing his job, determined to win Reuben over and get him to enjoy himself.

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

Give Up the Ghost (Not Dead Yet #2) by Jenn Burke

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The bigger they are, the harder they maul.

Immortal not-ghost Wes Cooper and his vampire partner, Hudson Rojas, have it all—rewarding private investigation work, great friends and, most important, a love that’s endured. But ever since Wes sent a demon screaming back to the beyond, his abilities have grown overpowering and overwhelming. He’s hiding the fact that he’s losing control the best he can, but it’s hard to keep anything a secret for long when your partner’s a former cop…and especially when your partner’s a former cop who wants to move in together.

When all hell literally breaks loose in Toronto and superstrength ghosts are unleashed on Wes and his friends, he and Hudson are thrown into a case unlike any they’ve seen before. To save the city, Wes needs to harness his new power…and find some answers. But when he gets them, the solution to fix it all could mean losing everything.

Rating: A-

Jenn Burke’s Not Dead Yet earned a place on my keeper shelf earlier this year for many reasons, not least of which were the great storytelling, excellent worldbuilding, memorable characters, snappy dialogue and unusual premise.  Wes Cooper was murdered in 1933 by his lover Michael, but was resurrected by Michael’s sister – a witch.  Somehow, she overdid it, not only bringing Wes back to life, but making him immortal, which changed his life in many ways apart from the obvious one.  He’s made a living as a ‘retrieval specialist’, using his ability to slip between the living plane and the otherplane (which exists between the living and the dead), to sneak in and out of places others cannot access in order to recover items for interested parties.  Witnessing a murder while in the otherplane was the kicking off point for Not Dead Yet, which saw Wes reconnect with the love of his life, detective Hudson Rojas, and then work with him to solve the murder, making some truly disturbing discoveries along the way.  As Wes and his rag-taggle band of friends and allies fought together to prevent a powerful demon taking corporeal form, something even weirder than usual happened to him, and at the end of the story he realised that his (mostly low-level) magical powers had somehow been increased to a massive degree – and he’s not entirely sure if he’s strong enough to control them.

Give Up the Ghost opens some months after those events, and Wes still hasn’t told Hudson or his best friend, Lexi, what happened to him.  It’s not that he’s deliberately holding out on them, it’s just that, what with one thing and another – Hudson’s retirement from the Toronto PD, setting up their new PI agency, settling into being a couple again, Lexi needing to rest following the clean-up after their battle with the demon, and helping their friend, Evan, to come to terms with his part in it – basically, there just hasn’t been a good time.  And now, months later, it feels too weird to bring it up.  Plus, Wes is a master at avoidance and decides he’s better off not knowing exactly what the Crown of Osiris did to him, because that way he can hide from it.  But he’s struggling; not only to keep the secret, but to keep his powers under control and his fears at bay – and it’s taking its toll on him.

A bunch of “weird shit” happening at their local coffee shop is the first clue that something is badly wrong.  Wes, Lexi and Evan arrive to discover the place overrun by imps, who must be coming through some sort of crack or portal into the living plane – but from where?  Imps don’t exist in the otherplane, so they must be coming from Beyond, the place where spirits pass after death and where demons live – but in order to do that, the imps must have been summoned.  But by whom – and why?  Before Wes can contemplate that, however, he and the others must seal the breach – and not for the first time, he berates himself for not coming clean about his enhanced magic, as he instead of doing it himself, he has to channel some of his magic into Lexi so that she can close it.

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

The Rogue of Fifth Avenue (Uptown Girls #1) by Joanna Shupe

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Silver-tongued lawyer.
Keeper of secrets.
Breaker of hearts.

He can solve any problem . . .

In serving the wealthy power brokers of New York society, Frank Tripp has finally gained the respectability and security his own upbringing lacked. There’s no issue he cannot fix . . . except for one: the beautiful and reckless daughter of an important client who doesn’t seem to understand the word danger.

She’s not looking for a hero . . .

Excitement lies just below Forty-Second Street and Mamie Greene is determined to explore all of it—while playing a modern-day Robin Hood along the way. What she doesn’t need is her father’s lawyer dogging her every step and threatening her efforts to help struggling families in the tenements.

However, she doesn’t count on Frank’s persistence . . . or the sparks that fly between them. When fate upends all her plans, Mamie must decide if she’s willing to risk it all on a rogue . . .

Rating: B

I was really pleased when I learned that Frank Tripp, high-flying lawyer to the rich and famous of Gilded Age New York, would be getting his own story in The Rogue of Fifth Avenue the first book in Joanna Shupe’s new Uptown Girls series. Handsome, charming and urbane, Frank made for an attractive, somewhat enigmatic supporting character in the recent Four Hundred series, and I was more than eager to read his story.  Frank is a great character who undergoes significant growth throughout the course of this novel, and once the main plotline gets going – a legal thriller which will pit Frank against the society he’s worked so hard to fit into – I was fairly gripped by it.  But I wasn’t as drawn to the romance, mostly because I didn’t care for the heroine all that much.  Up until now, I’ve enjoyed Ms. Shupe’s female leads; they’ve been spirited and intelligent women who are determined to do more than be simply ornamental. Marion – Mamie – Greene is very much in that mould, but while she displays an admirable social conscience, she’s also naïve and reckless.  It’s hard to root for a couple when you believe one of them – in this case the hero – deserves better.

For the third or fourth time in as many months, Frank Tripp finds himself ‘escorting’ the daughter of one of his biggest clients away from a gambling hall. He tries (unsuccessfully) to extract a promise from her never to go there again, but Mamie, not content with the role life has allotted her as a woman destined merely to marry well and spend her life going to parties, isn’t going to give in, especially given the altruistic motives for which she gambles and picks pockets:

She gave the money either to a charity or directly to a tenement family herself. There were too many needy families in the city, and the charities were oftentimes more concerned with temperance and religious conversion than distributing aid. Mamie would rather not see any restrictions placed on relief, which was why she traveled downtown herself a few times a month.

Which makes stealing perfectly okay, apparently.  Yes, I understand why she’s doing it, and yes the idea that charities would make religious conversion a condition of giving aid to someone in need is utterly disgusting.  But instead of doing something that would benefit even more people than she can help alone, like establishing an aid society or charity of her own, Mamie gambles and steals.

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

A Matter of Time Vol.1 by Mary Calmes (audiobook) – Narrated by Paul Morey

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Jory Keyes leads a normal life as an architect’s assistant until he is witness to a brutal murder. Though initially saved by police Detective Sam Kage, Jory refuses protective custody – he has a life he loves that he won’t give up no matter who is after him. But Jory’s life is in real jeopardy, especially after he agrees to testify about what he saw.

While dealing with attempts on his life, well-meaning friends who want to see him happy, an overly protective boss, and a slowly unfolding mystery that is much more sinister than he could ever imagine, the young gay man finds himself getting involved with Sam, the conflicted and closeted detective. And though Jory may survive the danger, he may not survive a broken heart.

Rating: Narration: B-; Content: B-

Architect’s assistant Jory Keyes is young, gay, free, single and gorgeous – as we’re repeatedly reminded. You could probably make a drinking game out of it; how often Jory is called beautiful (by both men and women) and how many men are falling over themselves to sleep with him or have a relationship with him.

Anyway. When he witnesses a murder, Jory refuses to go into witness protection (is that actually allowed?) and then becomes involved with the gruff, hot detective assigned to the case – Sam Kage, who is strongly attracted to Jory from the get-go, but tries to ignore it because he’s straight (or so he thinks).

Matter of Time Vol. 1 was originally published as two books, and neither ends particularly happily for Jory and Sam. By the end of the second book, Sam has admitted he’s gay and has come out to his family and colleagues and is set for a future with Jory, until a last minute attempt on their lives railroads everything, leaves Jory seriously injured and Sam being assigned to an undercover task force to root out the bad guys. (Although to be fair, he chooses the assignment – and to leave Jory – to go undercover because he can’t afford to say no; after his partner was discovered to be on the take, Sam is under scrutiny and should it become known he was in a relationship with a witness, it would ruin his career. He also thinks it’s the best way to keep Jory safe – and although his mother calls him out on it, Sam nonetheless puts his career first). So to get the whole story of their on-again/off-again relationship, you need to pick up the second volume (books 3 & 4).

I enjoyed the story for the most part, once I’d got past that whole everyone-wants-Jory thing. He’s actually a great character; he’s compassionate and kind and funny, and wants to make the people around him happy – and yes, he doesn’t always act rationally and sometimes goes against good advice, but I sort of got where he was coming from. He’s young – just 22 when the story starts – and it was obvious he wanted to be his own person and live life on his own terms rather than be pushed around and pulled in all the directions people wanted him to go, even if they were doing it nicely. So yeah, he was annoying at times, but he’s such a compelling character that I ended up being completely charmed by him as much as it seems almost everyone else who’s ever read the book has been!

As for Sam. Having recently finished listening to the fabulous Adrien English series, I was prepared for another assholic, closeted cop who couldn’t admit he was in love with a guy, whose words and actions practically SHOUTED he was in love with the guy, who kept trying to keep the guy at a distance but at the same time couldn’t stay away from him. Sam’s a hot mess of sexy, growly and possessive; he manhandles Jory a lot (kept giving him fireman’s lifts and grabbing him by the neck – what was with all the neck-grabbing?) but there’s no doubt he really does care for Jory. It just takes him a while to work out what he truly wants and he hurts Jory while he does it.

But here’s one of the things that makes Jory such a great character; when he realises, in the first book/half, that he’s only a minor detour on the path Sam’s mapped out for himself and that Sam (like Jake Riordan before him) is set on doing the wife and family thing, Jory gets out. He isn’t going to hang around to be used or to be someone’s experiment; it kills him, but he’s got too much self-respect to just hang around and wait for whatever scraps Sam’s prepared to give him. Yes, he should probably have told Sam he was going, but Sam made it pretty clear to Jory where he stood, so I don’t blame him for getting out when he did and then getting on with his life.

Overall, the story meanders a lot and could really have done with some serious tightening up. There are lots of secondary characters and random people dropping in and out (mostly to marvel at Jory’s awesomeness) and the plotline that brings Jory and Sam together is largely absent until near the end. It’s referenced, but it’s very much in the background with little to no urgency about it until the final chapters, and honestly, a lot of the flab should have been cut out of the story, because some of the non-Jory-and-Sam stuff dragged quite a bit.

Paul Morey does a really good job with his vocal characterisations of both Sam and Jory, and handles the large cast of secondary characters really well; Sam has a suitably gravelly tone while Jory’s is lighter, and the essense of both their personalities comes through. His female voices are pretty good (just a softened tone without any massive variations in pitch) and the main supporting roles of Dane and Nick are easy to recognise. My one big issue with his narration was with the pacing, which was a bit on the slow side – but most of all, with his tendency to take long pauses between phrases and sentences, which was incredibly annoying. We’re talking pauses of two or three seconds; long enough to make you wonder if your player has suddenly shut off or run out of battery! I did get used to it eventually, and it hasn’t put me off picking up the next in the series, but the audio experience would have been nigh on perfection (like Jory!) without all the long pauses.

The Brooding Duke of Danforth by Christine Merrill

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Stranded at a house party…

…with the mysterious Duke…

When a storm hits, outspoken Abigail Prescott is trapped at a house party with Benedict Moore, the Duke of Danforth—the very man she was once betrothed to! Wishing to know the man she’s to marry, Abigail had called off their sudden engagement. But reunited once more, Benedict seems determined to win her back and make her his Duchess. His method: irresistible seduction…

Rating: C-

You know that feeling when, after finishing a book, you sit and wonder what on earth you just read?  That’s me after finishing Christine Merrill’s The Brooding Duke of Danforth.  It had the potential to be an engaging second-chance romance/courtship story played out against a look at the way gossip and rumour affected the relationship between the two principals; he, a wealthy duke who, by virtue of his gender and title is practically bullet proof, she the product of a union between drunkard and a social–climbing cit who has to care about what people think and say.  The trouble is that the book is… well, a bit of a mess.  There’s a Big Mis that could (and should) have been cleared up before the story even started but which isn’t really tackled until almost the half-way point and even then, isn’t completely cleared up until the second half; the romance is almost non-existent, the heroine’s willingness to jump into bed with the hero is out of character and even when the pair talk out their differences, they still manage to screw things up at the eleventh hour.

In the book’s prologue, we’re introduced to Benedict Moore, Duke of Danforth, and his long-standing friend, Lenore, the widowed Lady Beverly.  Benedict has decided it’s time he married and is thus attending Almack’s Assembly Rooms with the intention of looking about him for a suitable bride.  His attention is captured by a lovely and poised young woman who is accompanied by her loud, obnoxious father and overdressed mother.  Danforth immediately determines to rescue her from her father’s obvious tirade by dancing with her, but is impressed when he realises she doesn’t need rescuing at all, handling her father’s anger with coolly controlled aplomb.

Chapter one opens three months later, and we find Abigail Prescott and her mother taking refuge from a broken-down carriage and some terrible weather at Comstock Manor, home of the Earl and Countess of Comstock.  It turns out that Abigail did indeed receive – and accept – a proposal of marriage from the Duke of Danforth, but that she jilted him on their wedding day, realising she couldn’t marry a man who hadn’t spoken to her since he asked for her hand, and had shown no signs of being interested in her or of wanting to get to know her.  Sadly, the weather and carriage problems aren’t the only bad news Abigail is destined to receive that day – Danforth is one of the Comstocks’ guests, and meeting him again is going to be unavoidable.

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