Pretty Pretty Boys (Hazard & Somerset #1) by Gregory Ashe (audiobook) – Narrated by Tristan James

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

After Emery Hazard loses his job as a detective in Saint Louis, he heads back to his hometown–and to the local police force there. Home, though, brings no happy memories, and the ghosts of old pain are very much alive in Wahredua. Hazard’s new partner, John-Henry Somerset, had been one of the worst tormentors, and Hazard still wonders what Somerset’s role was in the death of Jeff Langham, Hazard’s first boyfriend.

When a severely burned body is discovered, Hazard finds himself drawn deeper into the case than he expects. Determining the identity of the dead man proves impossible, and solving the murder grows more and more unlikely. But as the city’s only gay police officer, Hazard is placed at the center of a growing battle between powerful political forces. To his surprise, Hazard finds an unlikely ally in his partner, the former bully. And as they spend more time together, something starts to happen between them, something that Hazard can’t–and doesn’t want–to explain.

The discovery of a second mutilated corpse, though, reveals clues that the two murders are linked, and as Hazard gets closer to answers, he uncovers a conspiracy of murder and betrayal that goes deeper–and closer to home–than he could ever expect.

Rating: Narration – B : Content – A-

Pretty Pretty Boys is the first book in Gregory Ashe’s six-book series about Missouri-based detectives Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset. I really enjoyed the story, which boasts a well-crafted, intricate mystery and combines it with the difficult, angsty relationship between the two men, who have known each other since boyhood and whose shared history is a complicated one. I’ll say right now though, that while there are romantic elements to the book, they’re low-key and mostly confined to some really delicious sexual tension between the leads, so if an HEA or HFN in every book is a must, I’m afraid you won’t find it here. We’re talking slow burn, with an emphasis on the slooooooooow – although reviews of later books lead me to believe that the guys get there eventually. Each instalment in the series takes place across a fairly short time-span, and the whole series only spans a few months, so it makes sense that the romantic side of things would take a few books to get going. Even though the wait is frustrating…

Anyway. For reasons listeners are not (yet) privy to, Detective Emery Hazard has been forced to quit his post in St. Louis. He’s offered the choice between being demoted to a desk job or keeping his shield and going somewhere else – and chooses the latter option, deciding to return to his home town of Wahredua – which he remembers as a dismal backwater – intent on finally discovering what drove his first boyfriend to commit suicide some fifteen years earlier. The place doesn’t hold many happy memories for him. The only openly gay kid in a small, insular town, he was tormented at school by a group of three boys, and he still bears the scars – both physical and emotional – of that bullying, so returning to Wahredua brings back all those memories and more. He knows one of his three persecutors is dead, and he soon discovers another is a wreck of a man… which leaves him wondering what happened to the third, the town’s golden-boy; the drop-dead gorgeous, charming and popular John-Henry Somerset.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Unspeakable (Deadly Secrets #4) by Elisabeth Naughton

This title may be purchased from Amazon

All his siblings have moved on from their troubling pasts, but Rusty McClane can’t leave his behind. Not even when his freedom is in jeopardy.

Legal investigator Harper Blake can sense a bad boy. She’s drawn to them—like she is to her mysterious and brooding new client. The police believe that Rusty is involved with the case of a missing underage girl. Harper’s job is to find evidence to defend him. But is her sexy suspect a predator…or something else?

If Rusty is guilty of anything, it’s of stirring something primitive in Harper. The closer they get, the harder it is to believe the worst of him.

But in an underworld filled with sex trafficking, kidnapping, and murder, Harper will need to be cautious about whom she trusts. Because Rusty isn’t the only one with secrets.

Rating: B-

Unspeakable is book four in Elisabeth Naughton’s Deadly Secrets series featuring the adoptive McClane siblings, and although I haven’t read the other books, it works pretty well as a standalone.  There are, of course, some recurring characters and past events referred to, but the author gives enough information about them to satisfy the newbie without getting bogged down in too much extraneous detail.  I did, however, read a few reviews of the other books after I’d read this one, and discovered that Unspeakable’s hero – Russell (Rusty) McClane – was a bit of an arsehole in the others, so I did miss out on that whole bad-boy-redeemed thing.  On the plus side, however, not knowing much about him meant that the first chapters of the book, where the author paints him as something of a questionable character, kept me guessing for a while – even though it was obvious he was the hero the minute the heroine started lusting after him.

Rusty has always thought of himself as the black sheep of the family, the really awful things he’d done in the past making feel as though he doesn’t belong among this group of honest, good-hearted people who love him.  He can normally handle family parties, but this particular day he just wants to be somewhere else, to avoid the questions about the bandages on his hands and the lies he’ll have to tell in response, hating himself for the deception and cringing at the obvious pride his parents take in him.  In the middle of the party, however, things look set to come crashing down around his ears when two detectives show up at the McClane house intent on asking Rusty some questions about a young girl last seen at the local strip club where she’d worked – and where she’d been seen in Rusty’s company.

Ex-cop-turned-investigator Harper Blake knows a bad boy when she sees one, and Russell McClane most definitely pings her evil receptors.  Her boss, lawyer Andrew Renwick, is an old friend of the McClane family, and he’s been asked to do a little digging around on Rusty’s behalf, to see what the police might be using to build a case against him in case Rusty is charged and Renwick has to mount a defence.  Renwick tells Harper that at least eight girls working at strip joints in the area have disappeared over the past few weeks and months, and that McClane is known to have visited the same places, enquiring about their youngest employees.  Harper can’t put her finger on it, but she knows immediately that something is off about McClane.  Is he just some sicko bastard who preys on teenaged girls, or is something else going on?  Either way, she’s determined to find out.

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

Kill Game (Seven of Spades #1) by Cordelia Kingsbridge (audiobook) – Narrated by Wyatt Baker

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Homicide detective Levi Abrams is barely holding his life together. He’s reeling from the fallout of a fatal shooting, and his relationship with his boyfriend is crumbling. The last thing he’s prepared for is a serial killer stalking the streets of Las Vegas. Or how he keeps getting thrown into the path of annoyingly charming bounty hunter Dominic Russo.

Dominic likes his life free of complications. That means no tangling with cops-especially prickly, uptight detectives. But when he stumbles across one of the Seven of Spades’s horrifying crime scenes, he can’t let go, despite Levi’s warnings to stay away.

The Seven of Spades is ruthless and always two moves ahead. Worst of all, they’ve taken a dangerously personal interest in Levi and Dominic. Forced to trust each other, the two men race to discover the killer’s identity, revealing hidden truths along the way and sparking a bond neither man expected. But that may not be enough to protect them.

This killer likes to play games, and the deck is not stacked in Levi and Dominic’s favor.

Rating: Narration – B- : Content – A-

It’s not often that I get gushy about my reading and/or listening material but… OMG, Cordelia Kingsbridge’s Seven of Spades series is one of the best things I’ve read all year!! This is romantic suspense at its very best; superbly-conceived, twisty-turny, high-stakes plots featuring two utterly compelling, flawed, complex central characters with off-the-charts chemistry and a superbly developed romance that isn’t all hearts and flowers, but which more than adequately proves the old adage about what doesn’t kill you making you stronger.

So far only book one, Kill Game, is available in audio – the series is five books in all; 1-4 are out, with the fifth due to follow next Spring – but I’m hoping the other books will become available in due course. The stories really are terrific and Wyatt Baker – a new to me narrator – acquits himself fairly well, although I there are some aspects of his performance I felt could have been stronger.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Divide & Conquer (Cut & Run #4) by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux (audiobook) – Narrated by Sean Crisden

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Baltimore is a city in alarming distress. Rising violence is fanning the flames of public outrage, and all law-enforcement agencies, including the FBI, are catching blame. Thus the FBI’s latest ideas to improve public relations: a municipal softball league and workshops for community leaders. But the new commitments just mean more time Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett have to spend apart when they’re happily exploring how to be more than by-the-book partners.

Then the latest spate of crime explodes in their faces – literally – throwing the city, the Bureau, and Ty and Zane’s volatile partnership both in and out of the office into chaos. They’re hip-deep in trouble, trying to track down bombers and bank robbers in the dark with very few clues, and the only way to reach the light at the end of the tunnel together requires Ty and Zane to close their eyes and trust each other to the fiery end.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B+

Divide & Conquer, book four in the Cut & Run series, sees Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett back on land and at their desks after their not-so-relaxing Christmas cruise – and Baltimore in the middle of utter chaos. A series of riots, lootings, robberies and bombings has the police and FBI baffled and having to deal with an increasingly angry and fearful public. Ty and Zane are quietly spending as much of their free time together as they can but are careful to keep their relationship under the radar given the bureau’s rigid non-fraternization policy. The trouble is, it’s getting more and more difficult to hide what they are to one another and they’re both forever looking over their shoulders and second-guessing their actions whenever they’re around each other. Complicating things still further is Ty’s declaration of love at the end of the last book; he’s all in, but Zane has made no attempt to broach the matter since, and while Ty hadn’t expected a reciprocal declaration and knows that Zane cares for him deeply, the latter’s refusal or inability to say the words is causing a bit of uncertainty between them.

Still, they’re in a committed relationship and are at last able to spend time together just being a couple. Until, that is, the mysterious bomber – who seems to have been targeting law enforcement, firefighters and other public servants – steps things up and Ty and Zane (not at all surprisingly) find themselves in the middle of it and end up making targets of themselves. Being Ty and Zane, they don’t give a fuck, but their boss immediately pulls them in and off active duty as a protective measure, telling them that instead they’re going to be the faces of the bureau’s latest PR drive. Like the other law enforcement agencies and public servants, the FBI been getting a pretty bad press because of their lack of progress in identifying those responsible for the city-wide unrest, and they need to restore the public’s faith somewhat. Because Ty and Zane are competent, personable and pretty (!), they’re going to be giving lectures and talks, doing meet and greets – and in Ty’s case, getting involved with the cross-agency softball league that’s being set up as a way of fostering public goodwill.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Fish & Chips (Cut & Run #3) by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux (audiobook) – Narrated by Sean Crisden

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are back on the job, settled into a personal and professional relationship built on fierce protectiveness and blistering passion. Now they’re assigned to impersonate two members of an international smuggling ring-an out-and-proud married couple-on a Christmas cruise in the Caribbean. As their boss says, surely they’d rather kiss each other than be shot at, and he has no idea how right he is. Portraying the wealthy criminals requires a particular change in attitude from Ty and Zane while dealing with the frustrating waiting game that is their assignment. As it begins to affect how they treat each other in private, they realize there’s more to being partners than watching each other’s backs, and when the case takes an unexpected turn and threatens Ty’s life, he and Zane will have to navigate seas of white lies and stormy secrets, including some of their own.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – B

The books in the Cut & Run series I’ve listened to so far have been a lot of fun. They’re fast-paced, and the plotlines are frequently implausible, but then no more so than those found in the myriad of police procedural/FBI/CIA/CSI and other alphabet soup TV shows that abound, so I can generally just roll my eyes when things get a little bit too daft and move on. And what makes that so easy to do is the fact that the two central characters are just so damn addictive. FBI agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are a couple of big, tough, alpha males who drive each other nuts, up the wall and to blows almost as frequently as they end up screwing each other’s brains out; they’ve both been around the block more than a few times and are carrying shedloads of emotional baggage (Ty from his time in the marines, Zane as the result of a past filled with tragedy and addiction); they’re intelligent, funny, sexy, perfect for each other – and brilliant at evasion and not saying what they mean, especially when it comes to the nature of their growing feelings for one another.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Hiding the Moon (Fish Out of Water #4) by Amy Lane

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Can a hitman and a psychic negotiate a relationship while all hell breaks loose?

The world might not know who Lee Burton is, but it needs his black ops division and the work they do to keep it safe. Lee’s spent his life following orders—until he sees a kill jacket on Ernie Caulfield. Ernie isn’t a typical target, and something is very wrong with Burton’s chain of command.

Ernie’s life may seem adrift, but his every action helps to shelter his mind from the psychic storm raging within. When Lee Burton shows up to save him from assassins and club bunnies, Ernie seizes his hand and doesn’t look back. Burton is Ernie’s best bet in a tumultuous world, and after one day together, he’s pretty sure Lee knows Ernie is his destiny as well.

But when Burton refused Ernie’s contract, he kicked an entire piranha tank of bad guys, and Burton can’t rest until he takes down the rogue military unit that would try to kill a spacey psychic. Ernie’s in love with Burton and Burton’s confused as hell by Ernie—but Ernie’s not changing his mind and Burton can’t stay away. Psychics, assassins, and bad guys—throw them into the desert with a forbidden love affair and what could possibly go wrong?

Rating: B-

Hiding the Moon is nominally book four in Amy Lane’s Fish Out of Water series, but really it’s a branch off the main tree, a spin-off featuring some of the characters who appeared in secondary roles in the previous book, A Few Good Fish.  (For which there are spoilers in this review).  In that book, our heroes – Jackson Rivers and Ellery Cramer – were pursuing an investigation into a shady quasi-military organisation that they believed responsible for training and unleashing a particularly violent, sadistic serial killer into society (and probably more like him).  Certain lines of enquiry led them back to an encounter they’d had a while back, in the tiny desert town of Victoriana, at the home and garage belonging to Ace Atchison and Sonny Daye (from Racing for the Sun), a pair of ex-military guys who live as far below the radar as possible and are keen to keep it that way – and they become instrumental in helping Jackson and Ellery to bring down the leader of the group known as Corduroy, and in closing down the whole operation.

The events of Hiding the Moon take place immediately before and during those of A Few Good Fish, and focus on two of the other characters featured in that book – black-ops assassin Lee Burton and psychic Ernie Caulfield (and yes, the Burt and Ernie reference hasn’t escaped me!).  If you haven’t read the previous book at the very least, you’ll be completely lost here, as this one really only works as part of the series as a whole.  It began life as a series of shorts on Ms. Lane’s website to introduce these characters who were to play a pivotal role in A Few Good Fish and then she decided to write their story in full.

Lee Burton’s targets are usually the scum of the earth, so he expects the next one he’s given by his handler will be some low life scumbag.  But Ernie Caufield?  He’s just a club bunny who likes to party, feeds all the local stray cats and works at a small coffee shop;  and Lee can’t for the life of him fathom why anyone would want him dead.  But before he has the chance to start figuring out what’s going on, someone else tries to kill Ernie; Lee ends up saving his life and takes him to the safest place he knows – the garage in Victoriana owned by his friends Ace and Sonny.

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

To Catch a Rogue (London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy #4) by Bec McMaster

This title may be purchased from Amazon

An impossible heist. A thief and a rogue. But will she steal his heart, instead?

The Company of Rogues finally knows the identity of the mastermind behind a plot against the queen—but their enemy is still one step ahead of them. When he kidnaps one of theirs, the Rogues plan a daring rescue mission that will lead them into the heart of the bloodthirsty Crimson Court.

It’s a job for a master thief, and there’s nothing Charlie Todd likes more than a challenge. To pull off the impossible, Charlie needs a crew, including the only thief who’s ever been able to outfox him.

He broke her heart. But now she must risk it all to save his life…

Lark’s spent years trying to forget her past, but the one thing she can’t ignore is the way a single smile from Charlie still sets her heart on fire. When he proposes they work together again, it feels just like old times, but she has one rule: this is strictly business.

It’s Charlie’s last chance to prove he can be trusted with her heart. But Lark’s keeping a deadly secret. And as passions are stirred and the stakes mount, it might be the kind of secret that could destroy them all…

Rating: A-

To Catch a Rogue, the fourth book in Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk: The Blue-Blood Conspiracy series picks up more or less from where the previous book (You Only Love Twice) left off.  Like its predecessors, it’s a fabulous mixture of action, adventure, suspense and romance that pulled me in from the very first page and kept me utterly enthralled until the very end; I’ve been following the series from the beginning and can honestly say that it’s got better and better with each subsequent book.  One thing though – it’s definitely NOT a standalone, so if you like the sound of it, I’d strongly suggest going back to the beginning and starting with Kiss of Steel – I promise you won’t regret it.

There will be spoilers for the previous books in this review.

It’s been two weeks since the Company of Rogues finally uncovered the identity of their deadliest enemy, the person responsible for the plot to overthrow the queen and for unleashing all manner of chaos upon London.  Lord Balfour, former right-hand man to the cruel and evil prince consort was thought to have been killed by the Duke of Malloryn during the revolution which overthrew the ruling Echelon, but he survived and has been engineering his revenge – on the city and on Malloryn.  At the end of You Only Love Twice, the duke was captured by Balfour’s lackeys and at the beginning of To Catch a Rogue, we discover he’s been taken to Russia, where Balfour is masquerading as the consort of the Grand Duchess Feodorevna at the violent and deadly Crimson Court.

The Company of Rogues, the small band of spies, assassins, thieves and bounty-hunters assembled by Malloryn to fight the threat to London and the queen, knows where he has been taken and has put together a plan to get him out.  It’s going to be incredibly dangerous and incredibly difficult; the Crimson Court is deadly, merciless and ruthless and the only protection they will have is the diplomatic immunity afforded them by virtue of the invitation sent to Lord Leo Barrons to attend the celebrations commemorating the tsarina’s coronation.

Charlie Todd – who has been a recurring character through both series – has been working for Malloryn and the CoR for some months and, along with Gemma Townsend, has come up with a rescue plan.  But to pull it off, they’re going to need outside help, someone who has never met a lock they couldn’t pick or a wall they couldn’t scale, and Charlie knows just the person for the job.

Lark Rathinger and Charlie were practically inseparable until, on the night of the revolution, her adoptive father, Tin Man, was killed saving Charlie’s life and Lark herself was so badly injured that she’d have died if Charlie hadn’t acted quickly and infected her with the craving virus that turned her into a rogue blue-blood and saved her life.  Overwhelmed with guilt over Tin Man’s death Charlie left Whitchapel – and Lark – behind, and although they’ve seen each other occasionally since, nothing between them has been the same.  Lark doesn’t blame Charlie for what happened, but she is still angry at him for abandoning her when she needed him the most, and is determined never to let him know that he broke her heart.

When Charlie turns up out of the blue and asks Lark to join the mission to free Malloryn, she is tempted by the thought of working with him again.  They’ve always shared a strong connection, the ability – almost – to read each other’s thoughts, and she recalls the thrill of pulling off the most difficult, risky jobs like a well-oiled machine… but she also recalls that the last time they’d worked together someone she cared for had died.  So she refuses – until she realises that Charlie and the CoR won’t be mounting their rescue mission in England, but in Russia.

I’m not going to say more about the plot, which is multi-layered and brilliantly conceived.  The author creates a pervasive atmosphere of menace from the moment the CoR arrives at the Crimson Court, and there’s the real sense that one false move could lead to disaster (and probably a most unpleasant death).  Two other important storylines are skilfully interwoven with the scheme to rescue Malloryn; one concerning Lark’s hitherto unknown past, which is connected to the Russian court in ways nobody expected, and the other devoted to the romance between Lark and Charlie, something fans of the series have been long awaiting.  This is friends-to-lovers romance at its very best; it’s tender, sensual and gorgeously romantic and there’s never any question that these two people know each other inside out and care deeply for one another in spite of the past hurt and misunderstandings that lies between them.  Lark and Charlie have been in love with one another ever since they were old enough to recognise the feeling for what it was, and their years apart have done nothing to lessen the intensity of the pull between them.   Worried for Charlie’s safety, Lark tries to shut him out and remain aloof, but it’s impossible.  From the moment they’re reunited, the pair resumes the verbal sparring that has characterised their relationship, although now, they’re both aware of the undercurrents of sexual tension and desire that run beneath their banter; and soon, they’re addressing the issues that lie between them and confessing the truth of their feelings for one another.  Even so, Charlie knows Lark is holding something back from him (and it’s a doozy!) but he’s a patient man and hasn’t waited this long to be with her to give up now.

I never come away from a Bec McMaster book feeling as though I liked one of the principals more than the other, or that the hero didn’t deserve the heroine in the end, or vice versa.  Each one of her couples are well-matched in terms of intelligence, understanding and ability, and the relationships she creates are ones of mutual respect and equality.  Charlie and Lark are a case in point; they’re both extremely good at what they do, and they never underestimate each other’s ability to do what has to be done.  They want to keep each other safe, yes, but there’s no overprotective BS and their trust and confidence in each other is wonderful to see.  Lark is a great heroine; she’s gutsy and intelligent but with a hidden vulnerability that makes her more rounded and Charlie… *sigh*… Charlie is simply gorgeous.  Not just to look at (although a six-feet-plus, broad shouldered, blond Adonis is nothing to be sneezed at!), but he’s kind, intuitive and loyal – it’s his belief that Malloryn would come for him were he in trouble that is the driving force behind the rescue mission – and his willingness to wear his heart on his sleeve for Lark is swoonworthy:

“I missed you so much I could barely breathe, but I needed the time to work out who I was, and you needed the space to grieve. I missed you. Every day. Every night. Every breath I took.”

To Catch a Rogue is a fast-paced, action-packed, intensely romantic adventure that features a couple of terrific principals, an engaging secondary cast of familiar characters (some of the digs at Byrnes had me laughing out loud), truly menacing bad-guys, and a wonderfully complex and superbly executed plot.  I’m eagerly looking forward to the final book (Dukes are Forever) next year, although I’ll also be sad to bid goodbye to this world and these characters.  The London Steampunk books are dangerously addictive, but when they’re this good, who cares?