The Secret She Keeps (Whitaker Island #2) by HelenKay Dimon

This title may be purchased from Amazon

No matter where you run to…

Connor Rye seeks solace on remote Whitaker Island. When his first quiet evening ends with a blow to the head, it’s clear that nothing—and no one—is as it seems. Still haunted by his sister’s murder, he’s buried himself in work while trying to hold his family together. Now, when he has a minute to breathe, he knows better than to get involved with a stranger, but it might be too late to keep his distance.

Desire will find you…

For years she’s pretended to be someone else, but Maddie Rhine is done living in the shadows. Old habits are hard to kick however, and when her past follows her to Whitaker she’s forced to hide once more. Except with Connor. Effortlessly sexy Connor makes it difficult to ignore him. He sees right through her…and senses her fear.

Someone is watching her. And waiting for the right moment to strike. This time Connor vows to be ready.

Rating: B

The Secret She Keeps is the second book in HelenKay Dimon’s new series of romantic suspense novels set on the small, privately owned Whitaker Island, located somewhere off the Washington coast.  It’s an entertaining, and intriguing read featuring a couple of appealing protagonists and a well-drawn secondary cast, and although I hadn’t read the previous book, I didn’t feel as though I’d missed anything, so this one works perfectly well as a standalone.

When Connor Rye’s family fell apart after his sister was murdered, it was Connor who picked up the pieces and held the family and their business together;  and in doing so, was deprived of the chance to grieve properly.  He threw himself into work and learned to wall off his emotions in order to get through each day; and he’s been doing that for so long that it’s become second nature to him. Now, two years later, Connor, who has been working himself so hard that it’s started to affect his health, has been pretty much ordered to take some vacation time by his family. He has borrowed the cabin belonging to his brother Hansen (hero of book one, Her Other Secret) and taken himself off to Whitaker Island for a few weeks.

Maddie Rhine has lived on the island for a couple of years and keeps a low profile.  She works as an answering service for the (until recently) one-man police department and other local business, and counts police officer Ben Clifford and hotel owner Sylvia Sussex as friends, but she doesn’t socialise and generally keeps herself to herself.  It becomes clear quickly that Maddie is in hiding – but from what or whom isn’t made clear right away – and that something from her past has come back to haunt her.

Maddie makes one hell of an impact – in more ways than one! – on Connor at their first (rather improbable) encounter, and he becomes more and more intrigued by her as he learns bits and pieces of her story. But Maddie has spent so long looking over her shoulder, so long keeping her secrets buried deep – for her own protection and that of others – that refusing to allow anyone to get close has become her default position. Even when she realises she wants to trust Connor with the truth it’s difficult for her to break that conditioning; but she comes to see that Connor’s patience and understanding make her feel safe in a way she’s rarely experienced, and that also that she needs to be upfront with him if she’s to have a chance of keeping him safe, getting her life back and making a future for herself.

The suspense plot in The Secret She Keeps is generally well-paced, although I did have a few issues with the way Maddie’s backstory was revealed. She’s so dead set against allowing anyone to help her that she can’t see that by keeping her secrets, she risks putting others – namely Ben and Connor – in danger. On the one hand, I could completely understand her not wanting to involve others in her problems (this made a lot more sense later in the book once readers become aware that Maddie was in Witness Protection and how she has been trained to look out for herself), but on the other, it was really irritating to watch her reach a point of confession and then retreat, and my frustration on this score did take me out of the story a few times.

The romance between Connor and Maddie is nicely done and the author builds a genuine emotional connection between the pair as well as writing them some nicely steamy scenes. Connor is a terrific hero; sexy, compassionate and protective without being suffocating or overbearing, with a good sense of humour and fun, and I really enjoyed the relationship that developed between him and Ben as well; it was clear they came to respect each other beneath the snark. I found Maddie more difficult to warm to however; she’s clever and intuitive, and she’s been through things that would have broken someone with less gumption, but although I understood her reluctance to reveal her secrets, this disrupted the flow of the story and went on for too long. The identity of the villain is also fairly easy to work out, but I liked the fact that the author didn’t go for the obvious in terms of their reasons for doing what they did.

In spite of my reservations about some aspects of the story, I did enjoy The Secret She Keeps. The author has set up Whitaker Island as something of a safe haven for those who need it, and has peopled it with a group of colourful and engaging characters I wouldn’t mind visiting again, so I’ll probably read the next book in the series.

The Cost of Honor (Black Ops Confidential #3) by Diana Muñoz Stewart

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He gave up everything to escape his family

The only male to be adopted into the notorious Parish family, Tony Parish always did right by his vigilante sisters. But when an attempt to protect one of them went horribly wrong, he had to fake his own death to escape his fanatical family. Tony set sail and ended up in Dominica—face to face with the woman of his dreams…

Now he must give up Honor to save her

After the death of her mother, Honor Silva moved to Dominica, where her family could help her heal and move on. But her activist mother left her more than money, she left her proof that could take down one of the richest and most powerful men in the world.

Tony gave up everything he thought he knew when he fled his family. But when a threat too dangerous for Tony and Honor to fight on their own closes in, he has no choice but to go to them for help. Problem is, they’ll demand something in return—something that could cost Tony not just Honor, but also the love that changed him forever.

Rating: D+

The Cost of Honor is book three in Diana Muñoz Stewart’s Black Ops Confidential series about a group of adoptive siblings (twenty-eight in total, all but two of them female) who were adopted by one of the world’s wealthiest women and trained in badassery to be warriors in her social justice crusade.  The story picks up after the end of the first book, I Am Justice, and focuses on one of the only male members of the Parrish ‘family’, Tony, who has got himself into hot water by going against orders so as to save his sister Justice from the possibly fatal consequences of her own rash actions.  Knowing the rest of the family will see this as a massive betrayal, he has only one way to keep body, soul and, most importantly, mind together; he fakes his own death to avoid being hauled back to the family HQ to have his memories altered.

Even though he’s managed to get away, Tony knows it’s just a matter of time before the family tracks him down, so he’s determined to keep moving.  Shortly after his escape, he travels to Dominica, where he (stupidly) goes kite boarding during a storm, gets wiped out and is saved by Honor Silva, a young woman who owns a cocoa farm where she manufactures high-grade, boutique chocolate and runs an island tour business on the side.

Having seen Lazarus Graves (as Tony has styled himself) is safe in hospital, Honor returns home to discover that someone has made an offer for the farm, hotel and tour business for an amount way in excess of what it’s actually worth, but she turns it down.  She has no desire to sell and besides, such an offer is extremely suspicious – why anyone would want to pay well over the odds for a business that is just about breaking even?  But when all but one of her regular tour guides fail to show for work and a number of ‘accidents’ start to occur on the tours,  it becomes clear that whoever made that offer is prepared to get their hands on the business by whatever means necessary.

The suspense plot in The Cost of Honor is intriguing, topical and moves at a good pace with clues revealed to the reader at the same time as the characters so we’re able to start to piece things together at the same time they are.  But this is (supposedly) a romantic suspense novel, and the low grade I’ve given it is entirely due to the clumsiness of the romance, which is unconvincing and contains more cheese than my favourite fondue recipe.  Even the term ‘insta-lust’ doesn’t adequately describe the speed at which things progress; Tony is in the hospital when the mental lusting starts (he’s specifically impressed by Honor’s boobs), and within a couple of days, the couple is pondering the amazing connection they share.  (Which isn’t shared with the reader – it’s all telling and no showing.)  The characterisation of Honor is inconsistent which made it difficult to get a handle on her.  When we first meet her, she’s contrasting her own cautious personality with her late mother’s bold, go-getter ways and told she secretes away her heart and her true desires.  But within  a day or two of meeting Tony,  she’s ordering him to get onto his knees and go down on her, and he’s thinking of her as a ballbuster – which just didn’t fit the initial picture the author paints of Honor as cautious and somewhat reserved.

The novel is full of clichéd dialogue and laughable statements .  I made note of many such instances on my Kindle, but here are a few of the highlights:

Tony is turned on by Honor’s driving skills:

“Honor, you catch my breath.  The way you drive.  The way you pause in the road right before a dip.  It’s like you’re one with the earth.”

In an attempt at banter worthy of any Carry On film:

“I can’t wait to get my lips around your recipes.”

(Oooh, er, Matron!)

During a discussion about the level of danger to Honor and trusting each other, Honor says:

“Are you sure, Laz? You barely know me.  I mean, we haven’t even slept together yet.”

Huh?

And when they do get busy between the sheets, she says right out that they don’t need to use a condom because she’s on the pill and hasn’t had sex in two years.  She’s known the man for a couple of days.

And this made me laugh so hard.  After Honor gives Tony the Best BJ EVAH, he asks:

“What can I do for you, Honor? What can I do to show you… to make this moment last forever in your mind? Last for all the days that I won’t be here?”

Hm.  Now let me see.  What should she ask for?  Reciprocation? To be thrown down and taken hard and fast?  Breakfast?  Diamonds? Nah.

She asks him to DANCE FOR HER.

WTF?  I’m pretty sure the response to that request from most blokes would be “are you ‘avin’ a laugh?”

The Cost of Honor doesn’t work as a romance or as a standalone, as so much of Tony’s backstory is obviously tied to previous books in the series and the opening of the novel is quite confusing as a result.  The suspense plot is decent (ish) although towards the end, it’s overstuffed with both characters and plotpoints. But what really sinks the novel is the complete lack of romantic chemistry and the poor-execution of the romantic storyline.  I keep picking up romantic suspense novels by new and new-to-me authors in the hope of finding something to really capture my attention and sadly, am disappointed more often than not.  Give this one a wide berth.

The Rational Faculty (Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords #1) by Gregory Ashe

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Three months have passed since Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset faced a madman and lived to tell about it.

Three months have passed since Emery Hazard resigned from his job as a detective.

Three months can be too long and too short, all at the same time.

On Halloween, a professor at the local college is murdered in his apartment, in front of dozens of witnesses. Then the killer disappears. Somers is assigned the case—and a new partner.

While Somers investigates the murder, Hazard struggles to find purpose in his new freedom. Despite his decision to stay away, he finds himself drawn to the case. But he’s no longer police, and in the small town of Wahredua, not all of his former colleagues are happy to see him investigating another crime.

When the sheriff’s son and husband go missing, though, the case becomes more complicated than either Hazard or Somers had expected. And soon they learn that someone else is manipulating events in Wahredua.

Someone who is very interested in Emery Hazard.

Rating: A

It’s no secret that Gregory Ashe has quickly become one of my favourite authors.  I first came to his Hazard and Somerset series in audio; I saw Pretty Pretty Boys in a “Coming Soon” list at Audible and requested a copy to review for AudioGals… and was completely hooked on the author’s style of gritty, twisty suspense – and even more hooked on the angsty, screwed-up relationship between the two leads and the gradual revelation of their complicated history.  I continued reading and listening to the series, which went from strength to strength as Hazard and Somers worked some difficult and dangerous cases, building trust and a friendship of sorts before finally facing up to the truth; that they’ve wanted each other since they were sixteen years old but a history like theirs is far from easy to overcome.

Criminal Past, book six in the series, brought a number of interlocking story arcs to a close and ended with Hazard and Somers – who had both been through hell – pretty banged up, but alive and finally feeling as though the past had been laid to rest and ready to move forward with their lives together.  Three months after those traumatic events however, things are far from perfect.  The guys have bought a house together, they share the parenting of three-year-old Evie with her mother, Somers’ ex-wife, and Hazard knows he should be happy. But he’s struggling with the fact that he’s no longer a detective – he sacrificed his own career in order to save Somers’ at the end of the last book – and is finding it difficult to deal with his unemployed status and with the PTSD he’s experiencing as a result of the events that went down in the summer with Mikey Grames.   Hazard’s deep seated insecurities about his attractiveness and self-worth – fostered by previous boyfriends who treated him like crap – only make things worse; he’s waiting for Somers to decide he’s not worth it and walk away.  He’s desperately trying to pretend everything is fine, although Somers – of course – knows exactly what Hazard is doing but is at a loss as to what to do to help him.  He feels guilty that he’s still got his job and Hazard doesn’t, and he’s also taking quite a ribbing from his colleagues, almost all of whom make jokes about the fact that Hazard was the brains of their partnership and that Somers is all but useless without him – and he’s keeping it to himself, not wanting to rock the boat at home or make Hazard feel worse than he already does. They’re treading on eggshells around each other, not wanting to say or do something to make things worse but not knowing how to make things better, and it’s heart-breaking, especially considering what they went through in finally finding their way to one another.  It’s also brilliantly and completely in character for the two of them; although they’ve got better at communicating about the things that matter, they’ve both fallen back on their old patterns and are hiding behind façades of “it’s fine”;  although their physical scars may have healed, the mental ones have not, and they’re floundering.

Somers has been back at work for a little while, and his latest case involves a murder at Wroxall College where the victim – a professor – was stabbed to death at a Halloween costume party.  For a crime that took place in a crowded place, there are surprisingly few witnesses,  there’s little evidence and  the perpetrator escaped easily.  And those witnesses with anything to offer are reticent, hostile and uncooperative by turns, so with nothing but dead-ends on the horizon, Somers – knowing that perhaps he shouldn’t – talks things through with Hazard, the best detective he knows. As Hazard’s mind begins to work along familiar lines, finding patterns and making connections, he finds himself engaged for the first time in months, a renewed sense of purpose energising him and helping him to, at least for a little while, keep his demons at bay.  He listens to Somers, offers advice, but then, acting on his own instinct, makes an important discovery  – one which complicates his relationship with Somers (giving rise to yet more ribbing and embarrassment) and with the Wahredua PD in general.  And when Hazard is approached by one of the witnesses in the case and asked to investigate the murder separately from the police, it complicates things between Hazard and Somers even more and further threatens their already fragile relationship.

Once again, Gregory Ashe has penned a wonderfully complex and gripping murder mystery with twists, turns and red-herrings a-plenty and has very cleverly found a way to keep Hazard and Somers working a case – and together for most of the book – despite their change in circumstances.   But as with the other books in the series, the whole thing – the novel, the investigation – pivots around the ups and downs of the central relationship, characterised by Mr. Ashe’s unerring ability to zero in on what makes these guys tick and to examine, with pinpoint – and sometimes painful – accuracy, their flaws and insecurities.  He has the most amazing ability to peel back layer after layer to reveal raw truths and hurts that feel so very real – and those moments when Hazard and Somers are finally able admit to those truths and hurts are among the very finest – and favourite – moments in the book.

I’ve said elsewhere that one of the things that has made the Hazard and Somerset books so refreshing to read is the fact that this is one of only a few series I can think of that doesn’t end once the central couple gets together.  Here, we’re shown what happens after the ILYs and how, in the case of this particular couple, there’s still a lot of work to do if they’re going to make it in the long term.  So I was relieved to discover that Mr. Ashe hasn’t resorted to breaking up Hazard and Somers in order to generate some romantic tension; instead he has them working through all the shit life is throwing at them individually and as a couple while they’re also working a complicated investigation, which is a much more realistic approach, and one I greatly appreciated.

As always, there’s a colourful secondary cast, some new, like Somers’ new partner Gray Dulac, a young, hip, gay detective who thrives on fist bumps and calls everyone “bro” – Hazard’s reactions to him are frequently hilarious – and some we’ve met before, such as the creepy and insidious Ozark Volunteers, whose presence never fail to make a shiver run up and down my spine.  And cleverly and carefully planted but largely hidden amid the chaos of the investigation and Hazard and Somers’  volatile relationship are the threads of the storyline which seems likely to be the overarching one of the series – and I can’t wait to find out more.

Utterly compelling and immensely satisfying, The Rational Faculty is a real tour de force and a superb start to this second set of Hazard and Somerset stories.  Gregory Ashe’s writing is sharp, focused and laced with humour despite the grittiness of the action and the difficulties being faced by our heroes, and he seamlessly blends together the different elements of the novel to create a truly un-put-downable read.

Note: There are some gruesome scenes later in the book which some may find upsetting.

Orientation (Borealis Investigations #1) by Gregory Ashe (audiobook) – Narrated by Charlie David

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Shaw and North are best friends, private detectives, and in danger of losing their agency. A single bad case, followed by crippling lawsuits, has put them on the brink of closing shop. Until, that is, a client walks into their Benton Park office.

Matty Fennmore is young, blond, and beautiful, and he’s in danger. When he asks for Shaw and North’s help foiling a blackmail scheme, the detectives are quick to accept.

The conspiracy surrounding Matty runs deeper than Shaw and North expect. As they dig into the identity of Matty’s blackmailer, they are caught in a web that touches politicians, the local LGBT community, and the city’s police.

An attack on Matty drives home the rising stakes of the case, and Shaw and North must race to find the blackmailer before he can silence Matty. But a budding romance lays bare long-buried feelings between Shaw and North, and as their relationship splinters, solving the case may come at the cost of their friendship.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

Orientation is the first book in Gregory Ashe’s latest series of romantic suspense novels, and it features two long-standing friends who run a detective agency in St. Louis. Mr. Ashe has rapidly become one of my favourite authors; he writes incredibly well-constructed, twisty mysteries and combines them with brilliantly written, superbly developed and complex relationships between his principal characters that just ooze sexual tension and make you want to bang their heads together at the same time as you’re rooting for them to see what’s in front of their noses and just kiss already!

North McKinney and Kingsley Shaw Wilder Aldrich met in their freshman year of college and have been pretty much inseparable ever since. They’re like chalk and cheese – North comes from a blue-collar family of construction workers, while Shaw was born into wealth; North comes across as a hardened cynic whereas Shaw is all wide-eyed innocence… yet something about them just clicked eight years earlier and they’ve been best friends ever since. North was also there for Shaw during the worst time of Shaw’s life; at the end of freshman year, Shaw and his boyfriend Carl were attacked by the West End Slasher, a crazed serial killer who was murdering young gay men across the city. Carl was killed and Shaw was critically injured, but although Shaw recovered physically, the mental scars took much longer to heal, and if it hadn’t been for North’s refusal to let his friend sink into depression and despair, he might not have made it.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Fallen (Deep Ops #2) by Rebecca Zanetti (audiobook) – Narrated by Roger Wayne

This title may be downloaded from Audible

Too quiet. A talented hacker who got caught; Brigid Banaghan is now forced to work with a secret deep ops unit. But she won’t reveal any more to these renegade feds than she has to. Especially not to Raider Tanaka, her control freak of a bodyguard and handler. It’s enough that his body is tensed for action and his heated gaze is always on her….

Too sharp. Raider knows there’s more to his new assignment than he’s been told. Why send a deadly agent of his experience to guard a computer genius – even a gorgeous, unpredictable, undisciplined one? But when Brigid’s estranged father is named in an investigation into Boston’s organized crime, Raider’s mind switches onto high alert, just like his senses…

Too close. To clear her father’s name, Brigid needs Raider’s help. The unit’s idea that she bring a straight-laced fed in as her “fiance” won’t fly, though-not unless Raider can release his inner bad boy and become the rebel Brigid can’t resist…

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B-

I had a few reservations about the love story in Hidden, the first book in Rebecca Zanetti’s Deep Ops romantic suspense series, but I enjoyed Roger Wayne’s narration sufficiently enough to want to give the series another try. There’s a novella –Taken – that comes between Hidden and Fallen (the second book), but I didn’t feel as though I’d missed anything by not reading or listening to it; in fact, Fallen works pretty well as a standalone.
In Hidden, the author introduced listeners to a small and out-on-a-limb branch of the Homeland Defense Department headed up by FBI agent Angus Force, a charismatic but obviously damaged individual whose personal mission – to find the serial killer he supposedly shot and killed five years earlier – turned into an obsession that pretty much derailed his career. He’s been sidelined and tasked with setting up this small unit which is going to end up doing the jobs the bureau doesn’t want to dirty its hands over. The rag-taggle group of agents he’s assembled includes former cop and undercover specialist Malcolm West, hacker Brigid Banaghan, FBI agent Raider Tanaka, former Navy SEAL Clarence Wolfe and department shrink Nari Zhang. Oh, and let’s not forget Force’s booze-loving German Shepherd, Roscoe. They’re a quirky, engaging bunch, and the author has developed strong relationships between them that clearly go beyond the professional; they like and respect each other even if they don’t always show it, and their banter and snark is well done.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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.

Before they can really think too much about what happened, Wes and Hudson return home to find a few random visitors on their doorstep, something that’s become a regular occurrence since news of Wes’ godhood circulated among the paranormal community.  Two of their visitors are the Garcias, a shifter couple anxious for news of their daughter, who disappeared a couple of days earlier; and the third introduces herself as Priya Rojas.  Hudson’s niece.  Whom he hasn’t seen in years.

When Wes and Hudson discover that there have been several drug overdoses in the shifter community over the past week, they start to realise that there’s something seriously wrong.  ‘Normal’ drugs don’t work on supernatural creatures – even when taken in huge amounts, their magic protects them from the worst effects – so for five shifters to die of overdoses within a week of one another is suspicious (to say the least) and can’t be a coincidence.  Someone is manufacturing a drug tailored specifically to paranormals… but is it designed to get them high?  Or kill them?

And as if a spate of shifter deaths caused by an unknown drug from an unknown source isn’t bad enough, Hudson’s former boss, Katrina Li, calls the pair in to consult on a series of recent murders which, from the detail in the photos she shows them, were committed by vampires.  Worse still, the MO appears identical to that in the series of murders that saw Hudson going undercover twenty years earlier with what, at the time, he believed was a biker gang – and which saw him being turned into a vampire against his will by the gang’s leader, Pike.  But Hudson killed Pike and the whole band when he eventually managed to free himself from his sire’s influence – so it’s not possible that Pike could be responsible for this latest murder spree.  But if not him… then who?

Wes and Hudson are plunged back into a world of trouble, with danger coming at them from all directions, and it’s not always easy to work out who is friend and who is foe.  With someone killing shifters, the sudden appearance of a load of brand new baby vampires, the even more unexpected appearance of the Order of the Onyx Shield, (the paranormal police), the presence of demons and werewolves… there’s a lot going on in this story, but Jenn Burke does an absolutely fantastic job of keeping things moving as she skilfully pulls her various plot-threads together.  I won’t lie – there are some intense and upsetting scenes in this book (I was in tears at least once) and at times, it seems as though our heroes are going to break under the strain and the weight of grief, but Wes, Hudson and their band are stubborn fuckers who don’t give up easily, and it’s time for Wes, “god of who knew, winning hearts and minds since 2019” to come into his own.

The story is fast-paced and utterly compelling, but once again, what sets this book – and this series – apart from your run-of-the-mill mystery or paranormal novel are the characters and the relationships that have evolved between them.  Wes, Hudson, Lexi, Evan and Isk have bonded together to form a family of sorts and Hudson, estranged from his blood-family and someone who’s been alone for the past couple of decades, has gone from that grumpy loner to a guy who is tuned into his family and happy beyond words to have those connections.  (He’s still grumpy sometimes though – which Wes generally thinks is cute;) ) And then there’s Wes;  funny, endearing, vulnerable and snarky Wes, who loves his people fiercely and has grown a lot throughout the series, having moved from not wanting to know much about the paranormal world he’s a part of to learning to accept the godhood that was thrust upon him at the end of Not Dead Yet and how to use his magic. Like Hudson, he’s grown from a man who lived his life mostly in isolation to one who has gained a family and friends he would do anything to protect.  And now it’s time for him to step up, to make some difficult decisions… and he’s simply awesome.

Graveyard Shift delivered everything I’ve come to expect from this series; an exciting, fast-paced plot, detailed worldbuilding, superbly developed characters and relationships and plenty of humor and snark with a side of steam.  I can’t deny that I would love to read more stories set in the Not Dead Yet universe, but if this is the last we’re going to see of Wes and Hudson, then this is a brilliant farewell and I’m absolutely delighted to have been able to join them on  their journey back to one another.

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

This title may be purchased from Amazon

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.

Henry is also pretty banged-up following a fight with Scott, aka Martin Sampson, a former Johnnies model who turned out to have been a nasty piece of work.  Following his discharge, Henry – who is pretty deep in the closet – returned home only to be thrown out by his parents, and has travelled to Sacramento to ask his brother Davy (aka Dex) for help.  Henry and Davy have never been close, and Henry obviously disapproves of what his brother and his husband do for a living (and also obviously disapproves of the fact his brother even has a husband!), but Davy gives him a place to stay and pays him to help out around the place. When Sampson was caught trying to deal drugs among the models at the apartment, Henry  got into a fight with him – and over a week later, Sampson is found dead in the building’s dumpster.  There’s no question things are looking bad for Henry, but as Jackson and Ellery start digging, it becomes clear that someone’s out to frame him for murder, that Sampson had somehow ended up in the middle of a drug war…  and that a blast from Jackson and Ellery’s past might just be back to haunt them.

As before,  Amy Lane has created a fabulous blend of mystery, suspense and romance with a healthy dose of humour and snark thrown in.  The plot is intriguing and well-constructed, but the story’s real strength lies in its characters and the relationships that develop between them.  Jackson’s take-no-crap attitude is just what Henry needs and I loved the way Jackson gradually gains his trust and helps Henry start to get his life back on track.

Jackson Rivers is an extraordinary individual. Apart from the fact he’s survived more shootings, concussions, knife-wounds and attempts to kill him than anyone has a right to, he’s smart, sarcastic, has very few fucks to give and is very damaged.  He’s been through so much in his thirty-odd years, things which would probably have broken someone less strong and determined, yet still has the wherewithal to care deeply about injustice and is driven to help those who can’t, for whatever reason, help themselves.  All that said, he’s no saint.  He loves Ellery deeply and knows the feeling is reciprocated, but there’s still a little part of himself, deep down, that thinks he’s not worth loving or caring about, and that little bit makes him careless of himself.  His deep-seated fear that one day, Ellery will wise up and realise he isn’t worth the effort leads him to… mislead Ellery about certain things, which doesn’t go over well.  Ellery ‘gets’ Jackson on an intrinsic level and knows all too well how hard it is for Jackson to admit weakness, but with Jackson’s reticence only exacerbating Ellery’s fears for his health and safety, there is one almighty explosion in the offing –and when it happens it’s shocking and probably the most heart-wrenching moment in the book.

But these two are solid, and I loved watching them talk things through and come up with a way forward. For possibly the first time, Jackson comes to truly understand the dangers he’s facing, and Ellery realises he has some changes to make as well.  For all Jackson’s swagger and snark and Ellery’s cool reserve, these two are a perfect fit and I’m so glad that this is a mature relationship where the people involved communicate and compromise in order to make things work, even though – for Jackson especially – talking about his problems is akin to having root canal without anaesthetic.

There’s a large secondary cast here, including the guys from Johnnies and the people who are part of Jackson and Ellery’s extended ‘chosen’ family – Jade and Mike, Kaden and his family, Lucy Satan, AJ, Crystal, Billy-Bob, Burton and Ernie – and I especially enjoyed the scene at the end when Jackson and Ellery host a party to celebrate the opening of their new business, and Jackson is completely oblivious to the degree to which he inspires love and loyalty in all the people there to celebrate with them – and the degree to which Ellery is proud of him because of it.

Fish on a Bicycle is an absorbing instalment in what has become one of my favourite series.  The main storyline pulled me in from the start, and the relationship between Jackson and Ellery continues to strengthen despite the bumpy road they’re travelling together.  Fans of the series will be pleased with this update on how our guys are doing, and will also be happy to know that there are more books to come.

Note: The last 15% of the digital edition is a short story about what happened when Lucy Satan came to visit.

Readers should be aware that there are mentions of childhood sexual abuse in this story.