Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell (audiobook) – Narrated by Raphael Corkhill

winter's orbit uk

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The Iskat Empire rules its vassal planets through a system of treaties – so when Prince Taam, key figure in a political alliance, is killed, a replacement must be found. His widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with the disreputable aristocrat Kiem, in a bid to keep rising hostilities between two worlds under control. But Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and when Jainan himself is a suspect, he and Kiem must navigate the perils of the Iskat court, solve a murder and prevent an interplanetary war.

Rating: Narration – B; Content- B-

Everina Maxwell’s Winter’s Orbit – which was originally published on AO3 as Course of Honour – combines a murder mystery with intergalactic politics and a side-order of romance in which (according to Tor.com’s publishing announcement) a scandal-prone prince and a dutiful scholar, who are forced into a political marriage, try to prevent an interplanetary war. There are a few pacing issues, the world-building could have been stronger, and while the romance is sort of a slow burn (more ‘slow’ than ‘burn’), it often felt secondary to the plot and was bogged down in misunderstandings until well into the second half of the book. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the listen – I did – but I had to adjust my expectations in respect of the romance downward a bit.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

The Final Dawn (Atrophy #5) by Jess Anastasi

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Rian Sherron is a lot of things. Captain of the spaceship Imojenna. Ex-war hero. Ex-assassin. For years, he’s traveled from one end of the galaxy to the other, both trying to escape his demons and get revenge on the shape-shifting aliens responsible for his slow demise into hell.

That all changed the day Rian rescued an Arynian priestess from slave traders. Ella Kinton is everything Rian both fears and admires. Ella is everything he never let himself admit he wanted. Together, they must face a harrowing choice—come together and defeat the Reidar, or fall apart, leaving the universe in total chaos.

Rating: B+

The Final Dawn is the fifth and final book in Jess Anastasi’s Atrophy series, featuring the motley crew of the starship Imojenna under the command of the super badass, super enigmatic Rian Sherron.  This story has been a long time coming; book four, Entropy, was published in 2018 and I confess I’d been worried that maybe the series was going to remain unfinished – so I was jumping for joy when I learned that wasn’t the case, and that The Final Dawn would – at last – complete the series and deliver a story for Rian and Ella, the Arynian High Priestess he rescued way back in book one.

The Atrophy books feature an overarching plotline and an ensemble cast, so it’s advisable to have read at least some of the preceding titles in order to gain a full understanding of the plotlines and characters.  There will be spoilers for the other books in this review.

A quick bit of background.  An alien race of shapeshifters called the Reidar is slowly infiltrating every aspect of human civilisation and replacing key members of Earth’s industry and government with their own. They’ve so far managed to do this without attracting attention, but Rian – who was captured and experimented on by the Reidar before managing to escape – knows what’s going on and is determined to expose the alien plot and preferably rid the universe of as many Reidar as possible along the way.   Each of the books in the series has featured its own self-contained storyline running alongside the main plot as well as a romance that reached an HFN/HEA by the end, but in The Final Dawn, the focus is firmly on the fight against the Reidar and the romance between Rian and Ella who have been striking sparks off each other since they met.  Their relationship became considerably more complicated in book four, Entropy, when they were mentally and emotionally connected in an entropic entanglement (which also includes former commando Varean Donnelly – and in case you’re wondering,  there are no kinky mind-meld-threesomes here!), and when The Final Dawn opens, Rian is still struggling to adjust to the fact that he and Ella are inextricably bound. After years of distancing himself from everything and everyone, suddenly not being alone in his head, heart and soul is profoundly disturbing.  Rian has been unsettled by Ella’s telepathic abilities and her cool, detached demeanour since they first met and has gone out of his way to interact with her as little as possible, trying to ignore his inconvenient attraction to her.

When the book proper opens, the rag-taggle crew of the Imojenna has been laying low in relative safety on the planet of Tripoli while Rian has spent the last eight months on the homeworld of the Mar’keish, a race with similar telepathic abilities to the Arynians, learning about and trying to understand the entanglement and the abilities he has developed as a result of being mentally linked to Ella. He’s also spent that time thinking up inventive ways to kill Ella’s brother Isiah Kinton; he’s sure Kinton has harmed his sister in some way and wants to find out what he did and then make the man pay.

Mar’keish intelligence learns of a likely Reidar gathering at an upcoming interplanetary summit, and if, as suspected, they are getting ready to enact the final stage of their universal domination plan, Rian wants to be part of the Mar’keish delegation.  There’s just one snag – Isiah Kinton is going to be there, and word is he’s become extremely interested in Rian over the past few months.

“Aw, has he gone all fanboy over my war hero stories?”

“Think less fanboy and more wants-to-kill-you-on-sight for abducting his sister.”

“If we’re being technical, I accidentally rescued her.  He should be thanking me.”

“If by ‘thanks’, you mean he wants to see you arrested and punished, then he’s already way ahead of you.”

Kinton’s presence at the summit will make things difficult but not impossible – Rian will simply have to keep a low profile. (Pfft, right.)

In the meantime, Rian’s crew has learned of his intention to head into Reidar Central, and, with the exception of Ella and Zahli (Rian’s sister), who remain on Tripoli in order to keep Ella safe from her brother,  they all head out on the Ebony Winter (Qae’s ship) to provide back-up.  Needless to say, things don’t quite go to plan (an understatement) and our heroes quickly find themselves up to their necks in trouble (as per usual).

I won’t say more about the plot, which is fast-paced with an intriguing storyline and some terrific set-pieces, which are so vividly written that they played out like mini-movies in my head.  There’s a strongly written secondary cast – most of whom you’ll have already met if you’ve read the other books – and I continue to enjoy the humour – Qae’s smart-mouthed snark and his interactions with Rian are often very funny – the team dynamic, and the found family aspect of the stories.

Rian Sherron has been a pivotal figure throughout the series; he’s Atrophy’s Kirk/Mal/Picard and as such has had a major role in all the other books.  His romance with Ella takes a bit of a weird turn here, with lots of psychic/mental … stuff (sex on the astral plane?!) – and I never really understood why the entropic entanglement involved a third-person.  In her author’s note, Ms. Anastasi explains that she had originally planned at least one more book in the series, but that “due to circumstances” that hasn’t happened – perhaps the entanglement plotline was meant to have been further developed.  But still, the author makes good use of it at certain key moments, and the chemistry between Rian and Ella is as strong as ever, so I can deal with a bit of weird.

The author has dropped hints throughout the series that Ella is much more powerful than she lets on and that her abilities could be used in a truly devastating way should she ever choose – or be forced – to use them in that capacity.  Here, we learn more about what those powers are, although I have to say that this is another aspect of the book that didn’t quite make sense to me.  Maybe it’s me and I missed something, but I wasn’t wholly convinced by Ella’s sudden transformation near the end.

But that and a few other minor inconsistencies aside, I enjoyed The Final Dawn and would recommend the Atrophy series to fans of sci-fi/space opera and anyone who enjoys a rollicking, action-packed, high-stakes adventure yarn.

Note: The other books in this series have been re-titled and re-covered since this review was first posted. (Frankly, I don’t think it’s for the better.)

Guarding His Melody (Enhanced World #4) by Victoria Sue (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Deaf since childhood, Sebastian Armitage had a promising musical future until his dreams were shattered when he transformed at 12 years old.

In a world where enhanced humans are terrorized and imprisoned, his life shrinks around him even more as he suffers the torment of his father’s experimental research to enable him to hear.

Gray Darling – struggling with the scars left by his experience in Afghanistan – agrees to provide short-term personal protection when anonymous threats escalate into assault on those closest to Seb.

As the lines between protection and attraction blur, Gray and Seb can’t ignore the intense feelings drawing them together. But secrets and betrayals might prove deadly, unless Gray is willing to risk it all. And Seb must find the strength to make his own future and sing his own song…

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B-

Victoria Sue’s Enhanced World series features a group of characters with special abilities known as (surprise, surprise!) the Enhanced. Most of the books in the series centre around a specially created Florida-based FBI unit that partners an Enhanced with a regular human, but Guarding His Melody (book four) is an offshoot of the main series which means it’s perfectly possible to listen to it as a standalone. The author does a good job of making it possible for new listeners to jump in here, giving all the necessary backstory without info-dumping, but for the purposes of this review, here’s a quick rundown. The Enhanced are humans who, in childhood or adolescence, suddenly develop special abilities, which range from super strength to the ability to become invisible, walk through walls, destroy metal, x-ray vision … it’s a long list and there’s no way of knowing beforehand who will transform, let alone what their powers might be. The only things all Enhanced have in common are 1) an identifying facial mark or scar which appears literally overnight when they undergo their transformation; 2) when they transform, their parents are given the choice to keep them in their households or send them away – a disturbing number take the latter option; 3) they are feared and viewed with suspicion, distrust and even hatred by the ‘normal’ public, and 4) they don’t have the same rights as everyone else.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Metahuman Files: Classified (3 novellas) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

These titles may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Here’s a little treat (well, three little treats!) for anyone (like me!) suffering withdrawal symptoms after Hailey Turner’s fabulous Metahumans Files series came to an end earlier this year – the novellas that slot into the later part of the story arc. Unsurprisingly, these won’t work as standalones as they assume listeners know who these people are and The Story So Far, so if you’re intrigued, I’d strongly recommend going back to the beginning – In the Wreckage – and working your way through the whole series. The narration is fantastic, the characters are engaging and the stories are action-packed, clever and really well-put together. (Oh, and steamy ;)) If you like military-based romantic suspense stories with a bit of sci-fi thrown in, then you really should check it out.

You can read the rest of these reviews at AudioGals.

 

Wireless by L.A. Witt (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Skin to skin contact is illegal. Sex? A felony. Insulated suits and gloves keep people from even the most platonic touches. Citizens line up in droves at simhouses for their rationed, prescribed orgasms in virtual reality machines.

Keith Borden has worked in a simhouse for years, and he’s never been tempted to break the strict no-contact laws…until Aiden Maxwell comes along. The attractive and dangerously flirtatious patient invites him into the seedy underground where people engage in real, wireless sex. Though Keith stands to lose his career and his freedom, he’s curious and Aiden is irresistible.

From the moment he sets foot in the wireless lounge, Keith is in a world of flesh and fantasy. He’s hooked. On the sex, on the atmosphere, and most of all, on Aiden. Years of keeping everyone in his world at arm’s length have left Keith craving a human touch, and Aiden offers all the contact – scorching sex, gentle affection, and everything in between – Keith can handle.

That is, until an unexpected act of betrayal throws Keith’s world into chaos, and he finds himself more alone than he ever imagined possible…

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

L.A. Witt’s Wireless has a really interesting premise and terrific worldbuilding, although the romance didn’t quite work for me. The story takes place in a future in which skin-to-skin contact is not only forbidden but illegal, sex is a felony and orgasms are administered ‘by appointment’ at simhouses.

Keith Borden has worked as a simtech for years, and over the last couple has developed a crush on one of his regular ‘patients’, Aiden Maxwell. Keith has never been tempted to break the strict no-contact rules at one of the underground Wireless Lounges (where people gather to have sex or just experience skin-to-skin contact with another person) – until Aiden invites him to join him at one. Keith is nervous – if he’s caught it could cost him his career – but his attraction to Aiden and his curiosity about what it would be like to actually touch another person are so strong that he agrees to go.

Keith’s first experience of touch is mind-blowing and overwhelming – and he quickly realises that one visit won’t be enough. He starts to realise that it’s not just the amazing sex he and Keith are having that he craves, but just simple human contact, the touch, the feeling of being connected to another person – but going to the Lounges is so dangerous and he knows it’s just a matter of time until everything comes crashing down.

I really enjoyed the story, although I wish it had been a bit longer. (If it had been a movie we’d have watched the good guys break out of the restrictive society they lived in and maybe start a more open and free community somewhere else). The worldbuilding is excellent, and author describes Keith’s feelings very well, his cravings and his withdrawal when he tries to quit going, and she does a great job of amping up the tension in the later part of the story. The only thing that didn’t work all that well was the romance between Keith and Aiden, which wasn’t helped by the lack of depth to the characterisation – we know little about Keith outside of his job and as the whole story is told from his PoV, we know next to nothing about Aiden. There’s no question about the strength of their physical connection, but the emotional one was somewhat lacking.

Nick J. Russo is a very skilled narrator, and has become a firm favourite of mine. He delivers an expressive performance here, with clearly defined character voices for the two leads and a clearly differentiated secondary cast. His delivery is well-paced and nicely-nuanced and I really liked the way he conveys the emotional content of the text.

Wireless wasn’t an unqualified success, but I did enjoy the story and would recommend it – especially in audio – to anyone looking for something a bit different.

In the Solace (Metahuman Files #6) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Built to carry you.

Jamie Callahan is looking forward to spending the rest of his life with Kyle Brannigan. They’ve overcome impossible odds, and the only thing left to do is walk down the aisle together. Despite the happiness they’ve earned, their enemies haven’t all disappeared.

Make it to the other side.

Colonel Liam Wessex is thrilled his best friend is getting married, but it’s just further proof that his own life is breaking apart. With his classified identity revealed to the public, Liam is struggling with the transition into civilian life. Becoming reacquainted with MI6 Agent Oliver Archer forces Liam to reconcile his past actions with a future that just might be the answer to all of his problems.

It’s not over, it’s just the start.

Oliver thought he’d done enough to cut Liam out of his life. When their professional lives collide, he’s forced to accept the fact that Liam is no longer the spoiled prince he once knew. When terrorists target London and the unthinkable happens, Oliver and Liam learn that second chances come with a price neither can afford to pay.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

Note: The Metahuman Files is a series in which overarching plotlines mean all the books need to be listened to in order; there are spoilers for earlier books in this review.

When I listened to In the Requiem, book five in Hailey Turner’s gripping series of action-packed, sexy futuristic thrillers, it was billed as the last (full-length book) in the series. The main couples got their HEAs, the bad guys were defeated and the group of characters I’d come to know and love over five brilliant books all got to head off into the sunset and pastures new. Ms Turner did, however, leave one major plot-thread hanging and has kept that going through the couple of novellas she’s published since In the Requiem came out, and I – along with many fans – was expecting that one of those novellas would tie up that loose end and also bring us Jamie and Kyle’s wedding. Earlier this year, the author sprung a very well-kept surprise on us by announcing that there would be a sixth (and this time, definitely final) book in the series – and it not only ties up the plot, and shows us the wedding, it also gives us a story for Liam Wessex, a major secondary character in the series who quickly became a favourite with readers – who just as quickly started to ask when Ms. Turner would write a story for him.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Any Given Lifetime by Leta Blake (audiobook) – Narrated by John Solo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

He’ll love him in any lifetime.

Neil isn’t a ghost, but he feels like one. Reincarnated with all his memories from his prior life, he spent 20 years trapped in a child’s body, wanting nothing more than to grow up and reclaim the love of his life.

As an adult, Neil finds there’s more than lost time separating them. Joshua has built a beautiful life since Neil’s death, and how exactly is Neil supposed to introduce himself? As Joshua’s long-dead lover in a new body? Heartbroken and hopeless, Neil takes refuge in his work, developing microscopic robots called nanites that can produce medical miracles.

When Joshua meets a young scientist working on a medical project, his soul senses something his rational mind can’t believe. Has Neil truly come back to him after 20 years? And if the impossible is real, can they be together at long last?

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A

Leta Blake’s Any Given Lifetime has been on my radar for a while, and I even have the ebook – but I haven’t managed to read it yet, so I eagerly pounced on the new audio version. I knew, based on the synopsis, that it was likely to be an unusual and emotional listen, and it certainly was; it’s one of the most affecting and unique romances I’ve ever come across.

The book opens in January 2012, and we meet twenty-two year old Joshua Stouder who, just a month earlier, lost the man he loved when he was killed in a road accident. Joshua has just found out that Neil has left him a massive fortune and a position at the head of the board of the Neil Russell Foundation for Advanced Nanite Research, the company he’d requested be set up after his death to continue his research into new medical technology. Joshua had had no idea how wealthy Neil really was; they had been together for only nine months before Neil was killed and were very much in love, even though they hadn’t even had a physical relationship (something Joshua now bitterly regrets and blames on his conservative upbringing, terming himself a skittish country boy stewing in internalised homophobia).

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

In the Requiem (Metahuman Files #5) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Never let go.

Weighed down by scandal, Captain Jamie Callahan must choose between saving his family’s reputation and his father’s political aspirations, or taking down the enemy once and for all. Choosing one over the other will have lasting repercussions he can’t escape. Whatever path Jamie ultimately picks, Staff Sergeant Kyle Brannigan will be right by his side to face the consequences. Kyle knows in a situation like this the only way out is through. Together they can make it to the other side, but surviving that journey will take everything they have.

One last chance.

Agent Sean Delaney is learning what it means to be part of Alpha Team through trial by fire. He wouldn’t change it for the world, nor would he give up the life he’s building with Staff Sergeant Alexei Dvorkin. But their time together is threatened by outside forces they can’t outrun. Having put the nightmare of Boston behind him, Alexei is focused on keeping his family safe, but he can’t have eyes on everyone. Alexei knows he can’t ignore the danger on the horizon, and when it strikes, he is unprepared for the tragedy it leaves in its wake.

Risking it all.

The odds are stacked ever higher against Alpha Team, and outmaneuvering a precog is a daunting, almost impossible task. Jamie knows something has to give, and when it does, it just might break him the way nothing else in his life ever could.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content A-

Oh. My. God. Hailey Turner pulls out all the stops in this, the final** instalment of her military/futuristic Metahumans Files series, bringing the overarching storyline to a thrilling, high-stakes close… but not without leaving a couple of unanswered questions that leave the door ajar for future stories. And it will come as no surprise when I say that Greg Boudreaux – who has done some truly incredible work throughout the series – makes it five for five with a barnstorming performance that had me smiling, sighing, blushing, fuming and sobbing into my dinner.

Besides being the culmination of a plot arc, In the Requiem also features a large number of recurring secondary characters, and while the author does include some backstory and background information about both plot and characters, I don’t think this story will make a great deal of sense if you haven’t read or listened to the books that precede it. I’m assuming that anyone who has made it to this point knows the story so far…

**At time of writing this was the final book, but book six has just been announced.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

In the Blood (Metahuman Files #4) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Running out of time.

Captain Jamie Callahan is frustrated with his team constantly being at the mercy of the enemy in order to further the MDF’s goals. To make matters worse, his father’s political campaign is ramping up, and Jamie’s every move is being watched by the media. He is acutely aware of all the eyes trained on him, his team, and Staff Sergeant Kyle Brannigan in particular. Meanwhile, Kyle would give anything to stay in the shadows, but he refuses to leave Jamie’s side, no matter the scrutiny. Staying out of the spotlight becomes impossible when their families are threatened and vital choices about their future together can no longer be ignored.

Desperate measures.

Staff Sergeant Alexei Dvorkin and Agent Sean Delaney are enjoying their time together as a couple when Sean’s past catches up with him. As Alpha Team’s long-running mission gets derailed in the worst way possible, Alexei discovers the enemy is playing for keeps, and neither he nor Sean are in any position to beat the odds and win the game. As for Sean, he’s worried that even if they make it out alive, Alexei may never forgive him for giving into the enemy’s demands.

Stand your ground.

Manipulation is the name of the game, but Jamie is done playing by everybody else’s rules. So is the rest of Alpha Team, because if there’s one thing Jamie’s team knows? It’s that they’re a family – and you don’t mess with family unless you want to get hurt.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content- A

Hailey Turner’s futuristic Metahuman Files series has got better and better with each successive instalment as the overarching plotline moves inexorably towards what is sure to be an exciting, nail-biting finale in the fifth and final book, In the Requiem. In audio, we’ve reached book four, In the Blood, and in it – to use the vernacular – the shit hits the fan big time. The author does an absolutely fabulous job here of weaving the suspense plotline – concerning the search for a terrorist group intent on making metahumans of their own – with the storylines surrounding Alpha Team’s captain, Jamie Callaghan and his difficult and sensitive family situation, his secret romance with Kyle Brannigan (the team’s sniper), and those featuring the series’ other romantic couple, Kyle’s adoptive brother Alexei Dvorkin and his lover, former CIA agent Sean Delaney. The ante is well and truly upped here as Jamie’s father’s presidential campaign heats up and Jamie and his team find themselves backed into a corner by the man who has become their nemesis. I’ll just pause to say that while these books can probably be listened to as standalones, I wouldn’t recommend it; the author does give plenty of backstory in each book, but listeners will get far more out of the experience by going back to book one, In the Wreckage, and following the story from the beginning. Plus – Greg Boudreaux narrates all the books. It’s a no brainer, right?

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Static by L.A. Witt (audiobook) – Narrated by Michael Ferraiuolo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

After two years together, Alex has been dreading the inevitable moment when Damon learns the truth: Alex is a shifter, part of a small percentage of the population able to switch genders at will. Thanks to a forced implant, though, Alex is suddenly static – unable to shift – and male. Overnight, he’s out to a world that neither understands nor tolerates shifters…and to his heterosexual boyfriend.

Damon is stunned to discover his girlfriend is a shifter and scared to death of the dangers the implant poses to Alex’s health. He refuses to abandon Alex, but what about their relationship? Damon is straight, and with the implant both costly and dangerous to remove, Alex is stuck as a man.

Stripped of half his identity and facing serious physical and social ramifications, Alex needs Damon more than ever, but he doesn’t see how they can get through this.

Especially if he’s static forever.

Rating: Narration: A; Content: A-

I think it’s safe to say that the premise of L.A. Witt’s Static is one of the most original I’ve come across. It’s set in a world very like our own with one major difference – shifters are known to exist, but instead of being able to assume animal shapes, these shifters are able to change gender at will. Some are straight, some are not; some are happy to spend their lives as one gender, some gravitate towards one but do shift sometimes, and others – like Alex in this story – are non-binary which, in Alex’s case, means spending roughly half the time as male and half as female. But while the existence of shifters isn’t a secret, many of them choose to keep their ability under wraps due to the overwhelmingly negative perceptions of them by the “static” public, and the amount of prejudice they encounter.

Damon and his girlfriend have been in a relationship for a couple of years now, and although it’s not been without its ups and downs (Alex can be very moody and sometimes drinks heavily) they love each other and Damon would like them to get married – although Alex keeps dodging the issue. When she doesn’t answer his calls one morning, Damon is immediately worried about her; she went to visit her parents the night before, and he knows she finds those visits incredibly difficult – so he heads over to her house to check on her, and is astonished when a young man opens the door.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.