Craft Brew (Trouble Brewing #2) by Layla Reyne

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Assistant US attorney Dominic Price is staring down the barrel of his father’s debts. The bull’s-eye on his back makes him a threat to everyone he cares about, so when his lover wants to go public with their relationship, he bolts. Not because he isn’t in love—he can’t stomach the thought of putting Cam in danger.

Kidnap and rescue expert Cameron Byrne is determined to figure out what trouble Nic is running from, but devastating news from home brings him back to Boston and to the cold case that has haunted his family for two decades. Shoving aside his pride, he calls Nic for help.

Together they search for answers, navigating the minefield of Cam’s past. But when they get too close to the truth, Cam must use every skill in his arsenal to save the man he loves… before it’s too late.

Rating: B-

Although I wasn’t wild about Imperial Stout, the first book in Layla Reyne’s new Trouble Brewing series, I wanted to read book two, Craft Brew, because I was intrigued by what was clearly going to be the series’ overarching plotline, and hoped for progression. I got a little of what I wanted, but Ms. Reyne is clearly keeping her powder dry for the final book, Noble Hops, so Craft Brew focuses on a different story and shines a light on a past tragedy and a desperate search for closure.

In Imperial Stout, Assistant US Attorney and former Navy SEAL, Nic Price, discovered that his father – from whom he has been estranged ever since he came out more than twenty-five years earlier – was in hock to some pretty unsavoury characters. Knowing them to be ruthless gangsters who will stop at nothing to get what they want, Nic tried to keep this news to himself out of concern for those around him, especially for his lover, Special Agent Cameron Byrne. Of course, the truth will out, and Cam found out about the threats made against Nic and his father, but Nic fears for Cam’s safety should anyone discover they’re a couple, which is why he stubbornly avoids giving Cam an answer to the latter’s suggestion they move in together.

Nic has just returned from five weeks spent in San Diego covering for an absent colleague and he’s pretty much just set foot inside his front door then where’s a fire in his apartment block – in the apartment right above his – which is quickly proven to be arson. This convinces him more than ever that he can’t afford to move forward with Cam until he’s got to the bottom of things – and in the middle of all this comes really bad news for Cam. His mother has had a heart attack and is in a bad way, and he needs to go home to Boston at once. Cam is understandably cut up and preoccupied as he gets ready to head home, and Nic senses there’s something else lurking behind his concern for his mother, but it’s not the time to tackle it. Cam sets off for Boston accompanied by Jamieson ‘Whiskey’ Walker, his long-time best friend and husband of Cam’s FBI partner, Aidan Talley.

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

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One-Eyed Royals (Seven of Spades #4) by Cordelia Kingsbridge

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Shattered by their devastating breakup, Detective Levi Abrams and PI Dominic Russo find themselves at war right when they need each other most. While Dominic is trapped in a vicious cycle of addiction, Levi despairs of ever catching the Seven of Spades. The ruthless vigilante’s body count continues to climb, and it’s all Levi can do to keep up with the carnage.

When Levi’s and Dominic’s paths keep crossing in the investigation of a kidnapping ring with a taste for mutilation, it feels like history repeating itself. Thrown together by fate once again, they reluctantly join forces in their hunt for the mastermind behind the abductions.

But the Seven of Spades hates sharing the spotlight, and they have an ace in the hole: a new batch of victims with a special connection to Levi. Their murders send shockwaves through Las Vegas and change the rules of the game forever.

The Seven of Spades has upped the ante. If Levi and Dominic don’t play their cards right, they’ll end up losing everything.

Rating: A

Cordelia Kingsbridge’s Seven of Spades series comprises some of the best books I’ve read this year, and if you’re a fan of m/m romantic suspense/thrillers and haven’t read them yet, then you’ve got a real treat in store.  The titular Seven of Spades is a serial killer plaguing Las Vegas, and because the series has plotlines and character relationships that stretch across all five books in the series, there will be spoilers for the earlier books in this review.  And this is absolutely not the place to jump in if you haven’t read the previous books.  Go back to book one, Kill Game, and then work your way here – I promise you won’t be disappointed because this series is one of the most gripping I’ve ever read.

At the end of book three, Cash Plays, Detective Levi Abrams and his lover, PI Dominic Russo, crashed and burned in a pretty spectacular way.  Dominic, a compulsive gambler, doesn’t see his addiction as an illness, believing instead that it’s a personal weakness he just has to be strong enough to conquer.  Because of this, he hasn’t really sought out the right sort of help (or much of it), and when a case he was working put him in the way of starting to gamble again in order to maintain his cover, he fell very quickly back into old habits.  One of the things Cordelia Kingsbridge does spectacularly well in these books is explore the motivations and thought processes of an addict, and she shows very clearly the processes of self-deception and denial Dominic goes through in order to convince himself there’s nothing wrong and he can stop gambling after the case is over.  And while Dominic is becoming increasingly self-absorbed and desperate to hide his relapse from Levi, Levi is going through hell courtesy of his increasing frustration over the lack of progression in the Seven of Spades case and the growing suspicion of his colleagues. In yet another Machiavellian turn, the killer is targeting the men who beat Levi so viciously over a decade earlier and were never punished, and the SoS’s fascination – obsession – with Levi and the similarities in their psyches pointed out by the  FBI profiler in the previous book are driving a wedge between him and those around him. He’s hanging on to his volcanic temper and his sanity by the merest thread, his professional reputation is being gradually eroded and he’s more afraid than ever of what he might do if he’s pushed too far.  And he’s going through it alone and without the support of the man he loves.

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

Fair Game (All’s Fair #1) by Josh Lanyon

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A crippling knee injury forced Elliot Mills to trade in his FBI badge for dusty chalkboards and bored college students. Now a history professor at Puget Sound University, the former agent has put his old life behind him, but it seems his old life isn’t finished with him.

A young man has gone missing from campus and as a favor to a family friend, Elliot agrees to do a little sniffing around. His investigations bring him face-to-face with his former lover, Tucker Lance, the special agent handling the case.

Things ended badly with Tucker, and neither man is ready to back down on the fight that drove them apart. But they have to figure out a way to move beyond their past and work together as more men go missing and Elliot becomes the target in a killer’s obsessive game…

Rating: Narration – B- : Content – B+

Eighteen months (or so) ago, I listened to and reviewed the third book in Josh Lanyon’s All’s Fair series (Fair Chance), and having enjoyed it, planned to go back and listen to the first two books in the series. Well, it’s taken me a while, but I got there eventually! Because I’d already listened to book three, I knew the identity of the villain in Fair Game, but even so, it took me until I was around half way through until I remembered (!) and I was fully engaged by the story anyway, so that didn’t present a problem.

When FBI agent Elliot Mills sustained a debilitating knee injury, he opted to leave the bureau rather than spend the rest of his time there stuck behind a desk. He now teaches history at Puget Sound University, and enjoys it, but he’s still struggling a little to adjust to his new life, one in which he’s often in pain, can’t do some of the things he used to … and which lacks the sort of excitement he used to experience on a regular basis. Out of the blue, his father – a former history professor and rather infamous anti-establishment political activist – asks Elliot to look into the disappearance of a student (the son of his best friend), and Elliot agrees to ask around and see what he can find out. The first problem he has to surmount though is the fact that the lead agent on the case is his former lover, Special Agent Tucker Lance. They parted acrimoniously after Elliot was shot, and haven’t seen each other since; and while Elliot tells himself they didn’t have much of a relationship or much in common besides sex, he still feels Tucker’s loss “like a huge chunk of his life had been ripped out by the same bullet that put him out of a job.”

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Sticks and Stones (Cut and Run #2) by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux (audiobook) – Narrated by Sawyer Allerde

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Six months after nearly losing their lives to a serial killer in New York City, FBI Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are suffering through something almost as frightening: the monotony of desk duty. When they’re ordered to take a vacation for the good of everyone’s sanity, Ty bites the bullet and takes Zane home with him to West Virginia, hoping the peace and quiet of the mountains will give them the chance to explore the explosive attraction they’ve so far been unable to reconcile with their professional partnership.Ty and Zane, along with Ty’s father and brother, head up into the Appalachian mountains for a nice, relaxing hike deep into the woods… where no one will hear them scream. They find themselves facing danger from all directions: unpredictable weather, the unrelenting mountains, wild animals, fellow hikers with nothing to lose, and the most terrifying challenge of all.

Each other.

Rating: Narration – B- : Content – B

Book two in the Cut and Run series, Sticks and Stones is a slightly different animal to the previous book, but was no less enjoyable. While our heroes have to face a number of suitably dangerous – and potentially life-threatening – situations, the storyline here is more character focused and the whole thing felt less ‘flabby’ than book one.

After a traumatic case which they barely came out of alive, FBI agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are temporarily suspended from field work while they recover – physically and mentally. But things aren’t going as well as they should, and Zane, in particular, is likely to fail his psychiatric evaluation, meaning his FBI career is in the balance. Ty – who is like a kid on a sugar high at the best of times – is bouncing off the walls and eager to get back to work, so an enforced vacation isn’t exactly high on his wish list, but when his boss suggests – strongly – that he goes home to visit his family in West Virginia, and also makes clear he expects him to take Zane with him in order to try to help him sort himself out – Ty realises what’s at stake and wants to help.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Wolf at Bay (Big Bad Wolf #2) by Charlie Adhara

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Going home digs up bad memories, so it’s something Bureau of Special Investigations agent Cooper Dayton tries to avoid. When he’s guilted into a visit, Cooper brings along Oliver Park, his hot new werewolf partner, in the hopes the trip will help clarify their status as a couple…or not.

When Park’s keen shifter nose uncovers a body in the yard and Cooper’s father is the prime suspect, Cooper knows they’re on their own. Familial involvement means no sanctioned investigation. They’ll need to go rogue and solve the mystery quietly or risk seeing Cooper’s dad put behind bars.

The case may be cold, but Park and Cooper’s relationship heats up as they work. And yet if Cooper can’t figure out what’s going on between them outside of the bedroom, he’ll lose someone he… Well, he can’t quite put into words how he feels about Park. He knows one thing for sure: he’s not ready to say goodbye, though with the real killer inching ever closer…he may not have a choice.

Rating: B+

Charlie Adhara’s début novel, The Wolf at the Door, was a hugely entertaining combination of paranormal romance and romantic suspense. Set in a world in which werewolves exist and have recently made themselves known to world governments, readers were introduced to the BSI (Bureau of Special Investigation) which is the division of the FBI specifically tasked with investigating werewolf-related crimes. Special Agent Cooper Dayton was seriously wounded in a werewolf attack around a year before the book opened, and once recovered, was offered the opportunity to join the BSI, where he has been partnered with Oliver Park, a handsome, somewhat enigmatic werewolf and former college professor.  Given the way Cooper was injured, and the way his former partner had drummed the necessity for suspicion into him, it wasn’t surprising he wasn’t pleased at being part of what, according to his ex-partner, was a PR exercise designed to pander to the werewolf population; but as the book progressed, it became clear to Cooper – and to the reader – that not everything he’d been told was the truth, and that Park was charming, intuitive, droll and trustworthy – absolutely nothing like Cooper had expected.

By the end of the book, Cooper and Park have moved beyond the professional and become lovers, their physical intimacy evolving naturally out of the strong working relationship they develop during the story.  By the time The Wolf at Bay opens, they’ve been together for four months, although of course, it’s not something they can be open about if they want to remain as work-partners.  They spend a lot of time together, enjoy each other’s company (and the sex) but Cooper isn’t willing to think beyond that, or about what they’re really doing – things firmly on the long list of things he and Park Don’t Talk About.

Following a shake-down that doesn’t go according to plan, Cooper and Park are on their way back to DC when a call from Cooper’s dad, former Sheriff Ed Dayton, sees them making a detour to Jagger Valley in Maryland in order to attend the engagement party being held for Cooper’s brother Dean – which Cooper had completely forgotten about.  Cooper’s relationship with his father is an uneasy one, and he rarely visits his childhood home; he’s always felt the Sheriff never thought he was good enough, and Cooper has never told his father or his brother how dangerous his job really is and lets them believe he’s a glorified pen-pusher, which gives rise to some disparaging comments and not so subtle ribbing from his dad.  He’s not out to them either, and on top of all that, there’s an uncomfortable tension between him and Park he’s aware is mostly his fault because he’s deliberately holding back from him.  On impulse, Cooper asks Park to go to Jagger Valley with him, hoping that perhaps some time away from the professional arena will allow them to just be a couple and maybe to figure out exactly what they are to each other; and Park, being Park, says he’d be honoured to meet Cooper’s family.

The first part of the book does get a little bogged down in Cooper’s insecurities, his reluctance to admit to himself how he really feels about Park and his inability to actually talk to him about their… whatever is going on between them.  Fears of rejection, of being hurt and thirty years of emotional repression  all conspire to keep holding him back, and while he does want to talk to Park about where they stand, he simultaneously keeps finding ways to put it off.  And when a decades old dead body is found buried in the back garden of the Dayton family home, Cooper grabs the opportunity to put it off yet again with both hands.

Once this discovery is made, the pace picks up, and the revelations concerning the dead man – who lived in the house next door but was believed to have upped and left twenty-five years earlier – come thick and fast and Cooper learns some things about his family history that shock and unnerve him.  Even though he’s not there in any official capacity – and is warned off becoming involved – when his father falls under suspicion, Cooper is even more determined to discover the truth about the man’s death.

The mystery plot is extremely well done, but the thing that has really stuck with me about this book is the astonishing amount of character and relationship development Ms. Adhara packs into it, and how skilfully she juggles her different plotlines.  Through Cooper’s investigations into the murder, readers learn more about his past, his familial relationships and how they have informed his character; and even though he and Park are on shaky ground for part of the book, the discoveries they make about each other only serve to strengthen the bond developing between them.  It’s apparent right away that their relationship is about more than ‘just sex’ for both of them; they hang out together, they watch movies, talk about books and enjoy being together, but Cooper is terribly insecure and fearful that eventually Park will just stop showing up at his place, and those anxieties communicate themselves to his lover and send mixed signals.

As with the previous book, the story is told entirely from Cooper’s point of view, but once again the author does wonderful job of showing the truth of Park’s feelings through his words, actions and expressions.  Cooper might not be able to read the signs properly, but the reader can, and it’s crystal clear that Park is very much in love, but is trying to give Cooper whatever he needs while he figures things out.  Unfortunately, Cooper reads his willingness to give him space as aloofness; but thankfully, he does eventually come to realise that his unwillingness to let himself be vulnerable is what is most likely to drive Park away, and after a particularly steamy sexual encounter decides it’s time to man up and be honest with the man he loves.

The mystery is wrapped up neatly by the end and Cooper and Park have at last admitted how they feel about one another, but a plot-thread left hanging for book three suggests that not everything in the garden of love will continue to be rosy.  Although The Wolf at Bay gets a little bogged down in the first part, it’s still an excellent read and one I’m recommending very strongly.  I’m thoroughly enjoying this series, and can’t wait to read book three next Spring.

Death is Not Enough (Baltimore #6) by Karen Rose

This title may be purchased from Amazon

In his work as a defense attorney in Baltimore, Thorne has always been noble to a fault–specializing in helping young people in trouble just as someone did for him when he was younger. He plays the part of the bachelor well, but he secretly holds a flame for his best friend and business partner, Gwyn Weaver, a woman struggling to overcome her own demons. After four years, he thinks he might finally be ready to confess his feelings, come what may.

But his plans are derailed when he wakes up in bed with a dead woman–her blood on his hands and no recollection of how he got there. Whoever is trying to frame Thorne is about to lead him down the rabbit hole of his past, something he thought he had outran long ago. Thorne must figure out who has been digging into his secrets, how much they know, and how far they will go to bring him down . . .

Rating: C+

As a fan of romantic suspense novels, I should probably hang my head in shame when confessing that I’ve never read a novel by Karen Rose.  But I have to say right off the bat, that I found Death is Not Enough, the sixth book in her Baltimore series, to be something of a slog.  I went into the read knowing that it was part of a series and I was fine with that; as a reviewer, it’s not uncommon to pick up a book mid-series.  Most of the time, authors design such books to work as standalones, and supply enough relevant information to get the newbie up to speed, and Ms. Rose does this – but the trouble is that she gives so much information about what is a pretty large cast of characters and events that I felt overwhelmed and had trouble keeping track of who was who, and who was married and/or related to whom; and in the first few chapters, especially, the potted history that accompanies the introduction of each new character is info-dumpy and completely interrupts the narrative flow.

The story itself is a very good one and had the first three-quarters of the book proceeded at the pace of the last quarter, would have made an exciting and engaging thriller.  Defence attorney Thomas Thorne – an all-round good guy who worked hard to make something of himself after a pretty bad start in life – is discovered naked in his bed with a dead woman next to him.  He has no idea who she is or how either of them got there; she’s not only dead but her body has been practically eviscerated, and Thomas was pumped so full of GHB that he’s lucky he survived.  Everyone who knows Thorne knows there is absolutely no way he’s guilty of murder and that he’s been set up; even law enforcement don’t believe in his guit – and the story follows him and his close-knit group of friends and colleagues as they start to piece together a trail of evidence that links back to a twenty-year-old crime.  In the course of their investigations, it becomes apparent that while Thorne is the target, whoever is behind the various attacks on his friends, his business and his reputation is not actually out to kill him; instead they are going after everything he holds dear, clearly intending to destroy him by taking away everything he values.

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

The Long Way Home by Z.A. Maxfield (audiobook) – Narrated by J.F. Harding

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Ever since the accident that cost him his job on the Seattle police force, Kevin Quinn has been living with psychic abilities he refers to as the ‘gift that keeps on taking’. His attempts to use his talents to help the police have been met with limited success. Yet, when teenage boys start going missing from the beach cities of Southern California, Kevin gets on a plane.

Connor Dougal has every reason to believe all psychics are fakes and charlatans. He’s still numb from the disappearance of his first love, a boy who went missing 10 years earlier. Everything he aspires to is a direct result of that tragedy, even the acquisition of his detective shield. The irony of having to babysit Kevin Quinn is not lost on him.

These two suspicious men must develop trust and respect for one another to solve the case and, on the way, maybe fall in love.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – B-

Z.A. Maxfield is a new-to-me author, and I was intrigued by the synopsis for The Long Way Home, a romantic mystery featuring an ex-cop who gained some sort of psychic ability following a serious car accident, and the detective assigned to babysit him when he is called in to consult on a particularly disturbing case.

Kevin Quinn liked his job and his life, but after the accident – in which he lost the sight in one eye – he started to realise that something else had changed as well, and that he could somehow sense feelings and emotions by touching inanimate objects. For the past five years, he’s hidden himself away on a ranch in Wyoming with only his faithful dog for company, has a friends-with-benefits relationship with the local vet, and is fortunate enough to be able to make a decent living as a romantic novelist (under a pseudonym of course.) 😉

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.