Graveyard Shift (Not Dead Yet #3) by Jenn Burke

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Ghost/god Wes Cooper and his not-life partner, vampire Hudson Rojas, have settled into cohabitation in an upscale part of Toronto. So what if their hoity-toity new neighbors haven’t exactly rolled out the welcome mat for the paranormal pair? Their PI business is booming, and when a suspect they’ve been tailing winds up in the morgue, it’s alongside a rash of other shifters in apparent drug-related fatalities.

Now Wes and Hudson must connect the dots between the shifter deaths and an uptick in brutal vampire attacks across the city. Throw in a surprise visit from Hudson’s niece—who may or may not be on the run from European paranormal police (who may or may not exist)—and guardianship of a teen shifter who might be the key to solving the whole mystery (if only she could recover her memory), and Wes and Hudson have never been busier…or happier.

But when a nightmare from Hudson’s past comes back to haunt him, their weird, little found family is pushed to the brink. Mucking this up would mean Hudson and Wes missing their second chance at happily-forever-afterlife…

Rating: A

Graveyard Shift is book three in Jenn Burke’s original and entertaining Not Yet Dead series of paranormal romances, and is a satisfying and poignant send off for Wes, Hudson and their found-family of witches, vampires and other supernatural beings.  While each book in the set could work as a standalone, I’d advise reading them in order so as to gain the best understanding of the events and character backstories that have led them to the point at which we meet them again in Graveyard Shift.  If you haven’t yet started the series, please be advised that there are spoilers for the other books in this review.

It’s been almost a year since not-ghost Wes Cooper was reunited with his ex-boyfriend, Detective Hudson Rojas, thirty years after they split up.  Almost a year since Wes was turned into a god when he, Hudson and their friends foiled an attempt by a demon to return to the living plane, and almost a year since Hudson retired from the Toronto PD to become a private investigator.  Following the events of the previous book, Wes and Hudson are living together in their new home – a large house with plenty of room for the new family they’ve created – the business is going well, they’re very much in love and they’re living their best not-lives, happier than they’ve ever been.

When the story begins, Wes and Hudson are on a stakeout at the behest of Ren Oshiro, vampire and a former… associate of Hudson’s who’s become something of a friend in recent months.   Walter Gordon is a junior accountant in a firm Ren owns who has recently begun buying things he shouldn’t be able to afford and Ren wants to know if he’s stealing from the company. Wes and Hudson follow Gordon to a restaurant and Wes – in his ghostly form – observes him receiving a package that looks like it contains drugs.  Dealing would certainly explain Gordon’s new-found wealth, and Wes and Hudson continue to follow him until he loses control of his car, crashes  into a tree and dies on impact.

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

Fish on a Bicycle (Fish Out of Water #5) by Amy Lane

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Jackson Rivers has always bucked the rules—and bucking the rules of recovery is no exception. Now that he and Ellery are starting their own law firm, there’s no reason he can’t rush into trouble and take the same risks as always, right?

Maybe not. Their first case is a doozy, involving porn stars, drug empires, and daddy issues, and their client, Henry Worrall, wants to be an active participant in his own defense. As Henry and Jackson fight the bad guys and each other to find out who dumped the porn star in the trash can, Jackson must reexamine his assumptions that four months of rest and a few good conversations have made him all better inside.

Jackson keeps crashing his bicycle of self-care and a successful relationship, and Ellery wonders what’s going to give out first—Jackson’s health or Ellery’s patience. Jackson’s body hasn’t forgiven him for past crimes. Can Ellery forgive him for his current sins? And can they keep Henry from going to jail for sleeping with the wrong guy at the wrong time?

Being a fish out of water is tough—but if you give a fish a bicycle, how’s he going to swim?

Rating: B+

Jackson Rivers and Ellery Cramer are back – perhaps a little the worse for wear – in this fifth instalment of Amy Lane’s Fish Out of Water series, and they’re starting a new chapter of their lives. After being shot, stabbed and almost poisoned to death during their pursuit of Carl Lacey, the man responsible for turning trained assassins into serial killers, Jackson and Ellery have spent several months recovering from their injuries, and are, when Fish on a Bicycle opens, gearing up for the opening of their new law firm. But some injuries take longer to heal than others, and Jackson, already carrying a shedload of emotional scars that are barely scabbed over, seems only to have acquired more in the wake of the events that went down in the desert.

A Few Good Fish saw Jackson and Ellery teaming up with Ace and Sonny from the author’s Racing for the Sun and also served as the introduction to Lee Burton, a military assassin, and Ernie, his ‘witchy’ boyfriend who, besides being an awesome baker, is more than a little bit psychic. (Their story can be found in Hiding the Moon.) Fish on a Bicycle is something of a crossover story, too, in that it features Henry Worrall, brother of Dex from the author’s Johnnies series about a group of young men who work in the porn industry. I haven’t read any of those stories (although I have some on the TBR pile of dooooom!) and a number of the characters have cameo roles in this novel, but I didn’t feel I’d missed out by not having read any of their stories yet.

Henry shows up at the soon-to-be open offices of Ellery Cramer, Attorney at Law, and is clearly not happy at being there. With him is Galen Henderson, a very attractive and personable young man who explains that Henry is very likely going to be accused – wrongfully – of murder, and asks Jackson and Ellery if they’ll take on his case. Henry served almost a decade in the military but was recently railroaded out with a dishonourable discharge, and this, together with the fact that his brother runs an extremely successful (and legitimate) porn business, lessens Henry’s chances of a fair hearing. Cases like his – where prejudice is likely to prevent justice being done – are exactly the reason Ellery and Jackson have branched out on their own, and even though Henry behaves like a total dick, it’s obvious to both of them that he’s hiding something big and that beneath all the bluster, he’s pretty scared.

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

One Dark Wish (Deep Desires #2) by Sharon Wray (audiobook) – Narrated by Kevin T. Collins and Savannah Peachwood

one dark wish

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Her life must be forfeit for his to be redeemed

Historian Sarah Munro is not used to being shot at, but that’s just what happens while she’s poking around cemeteries on Georgia’s Isle of Grace, searching for the key to a centuries-old cipher. Her quest has unwittingly drawn the attention of two deadly enemies intent on destroying each other – and anyone who gets in their way.

Ex-Green Beret Major Nate Walker is on a mission of his own: to restore the honor of his men. To do that, he is required to stop Sarah – or one of his own men will die. Caught in the middle of a deadly rivalry, Nate can’t afford to trust the woman standing in his way. But his heart says he can’t afford not to…

Rating: Narration; B – Content: DNF

In the eight or nine years I’ve been reviewing books and audiobooks, I can count the number of times I’ve DNF’d a review copy on the fingers of one hand. I’ve slogged through some atrocious stories and horrific narrations to the bitter end, so I can at least feel that by being able to warn others away from such duds, the time I spent reading or listening to them wasn’t completely wasted.

So DNF-ing is a rare occurrence for me, but I had to admit defeat and give up just after the halfway mark of Sharon Wray’s One Dark Wish, the second book in her Deadly Force series. I’m not familiar with the author and haven’t read or listened to anything of hers before, but the synopsis sounded appealing.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Cold Conspiracy (Eagle Mountain Murder Mystery: Winter Storm Wedding #3) by Cindi Myers

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

The body count is mounting.

And a deputy is the killer’s next target.

Capturing the Ice Cold Killer is the greatest challenge Eagle Mountain has ever seen. Thankfully, Deputy Jamie Douglas is determined to see justice done. Nate Hall is visiting for a wedding, and the vacationing lawman is more than willing to help. As a blizzard ravages the town, keeping everyone trapped with a killer, evidence begins to accumulate about a mysterious conspiracy. Can Jamie and Nate get to the truth before more innocent people wind up dead?

Rating: D+

When I first started reviewing for All About Romance, I reviewed mostly historical romance – which has always been my favourite genre – and added in the odd romantic suspense title here and there for a bit of variety.  These days I read a lot more RS, although most of it is m/m, as I have found only a small number of authors (Loreth Anne White and Rachel Grant, to name but two) who can successfully (and consistently) combine both romance and suspense into a satisfying m/f story without compromising on either element. I suspect the prevalence – in m/m – of series with long running story arcs which allow for more plot and romantic development may have something to do with that, but whatever the reason, that’s my precursor to saying that much of the m/f romantic suspense I read these days isn’t particularly romantic or suspenseful, and  Cold Conspiracy by Cindi Myers is yet another example of RS-fail.

It’s the third book in the Eagle Mountain Murder Mystery: Winter Storm Wedding series, and the suspense plot centres around the search for a serial killer who is targeting young women and who leaves a calling card on each victim with the words “Ice Cold” printed on it.  I haven’t read the previous two books in the series, but in this one, the community of Eagle Mountain is cut off due to heavy snow, and while it’s believed that the main suspects in the murders had left before the roads had to be closed, the discovery of a new victim shows that not to be the case.

Sheriff’s deputy Jamie Douglas and her younger sister Donna are driving home when they come across a car stopped at the side of the road.  Jamie – who is off duty – is reluctant to stop, given there’s a murderer at large, but Donna is adamant that they must, so they backtrack and discover the Ice Cold Killer’s latest victim – the sixth – laid back in her car seat, her throat cut.

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

Declination (Borealis Investigations #3) by Gregory Ashe

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Shaw and North are together. Finally. After eight years of knowing each other and loving each other and slipping past each other, they’ve finally told each other how they feel. Borealis Investigations is growing, and they have a major prospective client on the line. Everything is finally moving the way it should.

Until the night Shaw receives a phone call telling him that Detective Jadon Reck, his former boyfriend, has been attacked.

At the request of Jadon’s partner, Shaw and North begin an investigation into the attack. But nothing is at it seems. City police are working to cover up evidence faster than Shaw and North can find it, and the motive for the attack seems impossible to unravel.

When a conspiracy of dirty cops takes action against Shaw and North, the two detectives realize they are running out of time. They have to get answers about the attack on Jadon before they lose their own lives. But Shaw knows there are things worse than death. And one of them has come back for him, to finish what he started seven years before.

The West End Slasher has returned.

Rating: A-

Note: This is a series featuring overarching plotlines so there will be spoilers for the previous books in this review.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Declination, the third book in Gregory Ashe’s terrific Borealis Investigations series featuring private investigators North McKinney and Shaw Aldrich. While these stories are predominantly mysteries, there’s a strong romantic thread running through them, too; and although the main mystery plots in each of the previous books has been tied up by the end, there are overarching storylines running throughout all three novels in the set which mean that they really should be read in order so as to fully understand the nature of the relationship between the two leads and the important backstory which underpins the plot.

North and Shaw are best friends as well as business partners, and they share a complicated and troubled history.  We’ve watched them yearn for each other, burn up the pages with unresolved sexual tension and deliberately avoid talking about their feelings for one another for two books, but that changed at the end of the last one, and when Declination opens, North and Shaw are – at last – a couple.  Things are far from ideal however, as Shaw continues to suffer the anxiety and panic attacks during sex which started following his involvement with a duplicitous client who tried to kill him.  Shaw has wanted North so badly for so long that he fears losing him should the other man ever work out just how messed up he is, so Shaw is trying to deal with his issues on his own while desperately trying to prevent North from finding out the truth.

The main plot thread that has run through the series concerns the identity of the West End Slasher, the serial killer who, eight years earlier, killed Shaw’s boyfriend in a vicious attack that also left Shaw critically injured.  Shaw has long been convinced that the wrong man was imprisoned for the Slasher’s crimes, and at the end of Orientation (book one), he came into possession of a video clip that gave him his first real lead in tracking down the actual murderer. When the supposed Slasher was killed in prison the day before Shaw was due to visit him, and when, during their last investigation, he and North kept running up against members of the St. Louis PD’s LGBT task force who were obviously hiding something and wanted to get North and Shaw out of the way, Shaw became even more convinced of the existence of a police cover-up.  And at the end of Triangulation, North and Shaw were sent a message that was an unmistakable threat.  Detective Jadon Reck, Shaw’s ex, arrived on their doorstep, beaten and bloody, with a photograph of North pinned to his jacket and the words “he’s next” carved into his chest.

The events of Declination take place a few months after those of the previous book. After catching up with a small-time thief they’ve been asked to take into the Circuit Attorney’s office, North and Shaw bump into Jadon, who is back at work, but obviously not doing so well. That night, Shaw receives a call from Jadon’s work partner, who tells him that Jadon has been hospitalised following another attack – and this time is in a really bad way. The police are trying to spin it as a suicide attempt, but Shaw is convinced that Jadon has been targeted because of his association with him and North and their continued search for the truth about the West End Slasher.

While Shaw is struggling (and often failing) to process so many things – about the attack years before, about what happened with Matty Fenmore, about his feelings for North – North is coming to realise that even though he and Shaw have lived practically in each other’s pockets for years, Shaw is slowly turning into someone he doesn’t know. Concerned about the toll the investigation is taking on the man he loves, North tries to persuade Shaw to take a step back and work with one of their new clients while North continues the investigation into the Slasher, but Shaw can’t. His need to get to the truth is too tangled up with the trauma of the attack and his desire to just be ‘normal’ again; he’s become fixated on finding the killer, seeing it as a way of achieving some sort of closure and getting his life back. (I admit that I couldn’t help wondering why Shaw wasn’t getting professional help; he mentions a therapist, but from North’s dismissive reaction, I inferred the therapist wasn’t very good!)

Amid the chaos of betrayal, corruption and murder, with North and Shaw not knowing who they can trust and that a step in the wrong direction could mean it’s their last step, Gregory Ashe brings the Slasher plotline to a close in a heart-breaking, shocking and completely unexpected manner. He’s an excellent plotter; even the most random of threads often turns out to have significance and he weaves them skilfully in and out of the narrative to create a complex, satisfying whole that kept me on the edge of my seat. He’s equally adept at character and relationship development, and continues to steer North and Shaw’s romance in a positive direction while also making it clear that they’ve got a long way to go, and I liked the honesty of that. There’s no question these two are committed and deeply in love, but they know they have work to do to build a life together and they’re prepared to do it. Mr. Ashe also writes wonderful dialogue and the banter between North and Shaw is sharp and funny, even as it serves to provide insight into their minds and relationship, and to demarcate the dynamic between them at the same time as it propels the story forward.

Declination is a clever, fast-paced and absorbing novel that brings this storyline to a nail-biting close, and leaves North and Shaw in a good place (together) and on the brink of a new direction in their careers. But this isn’t the last we’re going to hear of them; the book ends with… not really a cliffhanger, but definitely a hint of more to come, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

Her Steadfast Hero/Her Devoted Hero (Black Dawn #1 & #2) by Caitlyn O’Leary (audiobook) – Narrated by Aiden Snow

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Her Steadfast Hero (Book 1)

When the hospital is overrun by the most brutal of convicts that escaped during the earthquake, and an American doctor is held for ransom, the Navy SEAL unit Black Dawn is called in. Can David Sloane and Black Dawn rescue Dr. Carys Adams before it is too late? Through all the turmoil will David and Sarah realize that their time has finally come, and they were meant to be together?

Her Devoted Hero (Book 2)

When one of her co-workers is murdered and it looks like Kenna might be the next one in the killer’s crosshairs, Dex is determined to keep her safe. But with a target on her back, it’s really hard to keep a shield over her heart.

Rating: Narration: B; Content: D/C

This audiobook consists of instalments one and two in Caitlyn O’Leary’s Black Dawn series of romantic suspense stories featuring the Black Dawn Navy SEAL team. I’m a fan of the genre and am always on the lookout for new titles to listen to, plus Aiden Snow is a very experienced narrator, so I thought I’d give these stories a try. In the end, I found Her Devoted Hero to be the more enjoyable of the two; the story was more interesting and the romance a little better developed, while Her Steadfast Hero suffered from what I call “novella-itis” in that it felt rushed and everything – plot, characterisation and romance –were very superficial.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Criminal Past (Hazard and Somerset #6) by Gregory Ashe (audiobook) – Narrated by Tristan James

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

It all starts to go wrong at the shooting gallery. Emery Hazard and his boyfriend, John-Henry Somerset, just want to enjoy the day at the Dore County Independence Fair. At the shooting gallery, though, Hazard comes face to face with one of his old bullies: Mikey Grames. Even as a drugged-out wreck, Mikey is a reminder of all the ugliness in Hazard’s past. Worse, Mikey seems to know something Hazard doesn’t – something about the fresh tension brewing in town.

When the Chief of Police interrupts Hazard’s day at the fair, she has a strange request. She doesn’t want Hazard and Somers to solve a murder. She wants them to prevent one. The future victim? Mayor Sherman Newton – a man who has tried to have Hazard and Somers killed at least once.

Hazard and Somers try to work out the motive of the man threatening Newton, and the trail leads them into a conspiracy of corrupt law enforcement, white supremacists, and local politicians. As Hazard and Somers dig into the case, their search takes them into the past, where secrets have lain buried for twenty years.

Determined to get to the truth, Hazard finds himself racing for answers, but he discovers that sometimes the past isn’t buried very deep. Sometimes, it isn’t dead. Sometimes, it isn’t even past. And almost always, it’s better left alone.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: B+

Criminal Past is the sixth book in Gregory Ashe’s series of mystery novels featuring detectives Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset, and it concludes the story arcs that have run throughout the series. It’s longer than the other books (clocking in at 18+ hours), but the story is gripping and the interplay between the two leads is so sharp, so funny and so gut-wrenching that it’s easy to get lost in.

Note: There are spoilers for the other books in the series in this review.

Way back at the start of the series, we learned that Detective Emery Hazard had returned to his Missouri hometown of Wahredua for the first time in more than fifteen years, determined to find out the truth behind his first boyfriend’s suicide. That storyline, along with several others that have been quietly humming along in the background of the cases Hazard and his partner, John-Henry Somerset, have worked over the course of the series, are slowly, inexorably and skilfully brought together in Criminal Past, as Hazard and Somers confront police corruption, white supremacists and a wide-reaching old-boy network that will go to any lengths to preserve the status quo. And at the same time, they’re both forced to face many unpleasant truths about their pasts and to question whether their newly-forged romantic relationship can ever work given the issues that have lain between them for so many years.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.