Next In Line by Marion Todd


Next In Line by Marion Todd
Publisher: Canelo Crime
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

A murder victim with celebrity connections spells trouble for DI Clare Mackay…
Gaby Fox is known to many due to her successful TV career, so when her brother and his pals hire the salubrious Lamond Lodge for his birthday celebrations, it is noted by the St Andrews locals. A ripple of shock goes round the town when Russell Fox is gunned down on the premises.

DI Clare Mackay is attending a wedding when she sees Gabrielle receive a phone call then flee. Soon after, Clare learns why when the news of the shooting reaches her. Instead of trying to enjoy the day – not easy when the groom is her ex-boyfriend – Clare is preoccupied.

Clare gets to work on uncovering the facts surrounding Russell Fox’s death. The guests at the lodge have secrets to hide, but even when Clare begins to unravel the deceit, it doesn’t bring the answers. The detective can’t help but wonder why no one who knew Russell seems capable of telling the truth, and whether there is more than one person with a reason to want him dead…

DI Clare Mackay and her team are brought in to investigate when the brother of a popular tv show presenter is shot dead during a quiet birthday weekend at the exclusive Lamond Lodge. With the press immediately covering every move the team make, pressure begins early. But Clare and her team quickly uncover more and more lies surrounding nearly every aspect to the case and the whole situation becomes ever more murky. Can they work out what was really happening that weekend?

I’ve been enjoying this Scottish police procedural series and in particular the strong female lead detective. I feel that much of the mystery aspect to this plot stands very well alone, but I was happily surprised to find quite a bit of forward motion happens in this book with Clare and her personal life. While the mystery can certainly stand well in this book alone, I do feel that readers will understand and better enjoy the personal aspects to this story having read the last previous few books in this series. I think the author did a good job of explaining what was happening and why this movement was important – but I personally felt the emotional connection more deeply because I’ve read the previous installments.

The mystery itself is certainly front and center throughout the entire book – though I will admit the personal aspects is a lot more forward in this book than I’ve found in the previous ones. I thought the plot was well balanced and there were plenty of dead ends and red herrings. I was also pretty interested that a few of the peripheral characters linked to the various layers in this crime linked back to previous books and crimes as well. While I can understand readers might not enjoy the connections to past books, I felt it helped give me a better sense of the world and community within this story and setting of St. Andrews and in a sense, it was incredibly logical. Petty crime and similar social circles and movements would totally overlap. There isn’t an endless supply of people in a community like St. Andrews so it makes sense sometimes a person would be revisited in the future who had been a part of a previous case.

Logical and realistic, I am definitely happy with this series and plan to continue to read it.

The Shroud Maker by Kate Ellis


The Shroud Maker by Kate Ellis
Publisher: Piatkus Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

A year on from the mysterious disappearance of Jenny Bercival, DI Wesley Peterson is called in when the body of a strangled woman is found floating out to sea in South Devon.

The discovery mars the festivities of the Palkin Festival, held each year to celebrate the life of John Palkin, a fourteenth-century Mayor of Tradmouth who made his fortune from trade and piracy. It seems like death and mystery have returned to haunt the town.

When archaeologist Neil Watson makes a grim discovery on the site of Palkin’s warehouse, it looks as if history might have inspired a killer. It is only by delving into the past that Wesley can come close to uncovering the truth . . .

One year after Jenny Bercival disappeared, a young woman is found strangled and floating out to sea in South Devon. Young and beautiful, the woman was dressed in mediaeval dress like so many others celebrating the Palkin Festival – an annual event held at this time. There are many similarities between Jenny and this young dead woman and Wesley, and his team can’t help but wonder if this had been Jenny’s fate the previous year – only her body had been taken out to sea for good. Can Wesley sort out what’s going on?

Yet another good addition to this series, I was pleased that the historical and archaeology of this book was very well woven into the main plotline of the mediaeval festival going on while the killings occurred. Quite a few plots and sub-plots wove around together, including a number of the usual cast of secondary characters. I enjoyed there being some forward motion with the DCI and his grown children, as well as DS Rachel and her planned nuptials. And as always, I enjoyed Wesley and Neil working back and forth together, each finding small nuggets that the other could use to further their own investigations.

This book is well contained and while I feel readers who pick this up not knowing any of the characters might have to catch up a little on how everyone is linked together the actual plots are very well encapsulated within this story and should be very easy to follow. I do admit to getting a bit annoyed with Rachel’s character – she’s had a low-key crush on Wesley pretty much since the first book and it’s no secret to anyone who has read almost any of this series, but for quite some time now it’s been virtually non-existent and I felt it a bit annoying that the author flared it back to life somewhat after such a long dormancy, especially considering how close to her own wedding Rachel is right now. It felt a little cliched to me and a little bit like a low blow. This part was extremely brief and minor – but I couldn’t help but cringe a little when it did happen.

That said I was fairly pleased both with the unique twist to the main murder plotline that happened right at the end – that did take me by surprise, and I found it quite refreshing – and I was also pleased the murders weren’t as clear-cut and simple as I had expected them to be either. So, the murder plots themselves were exceptionally well handled I thought and this more than made up for the cliched “getting cold feet” and boozy embarrassing moment that occurred with Rachel.

A solid British police procedural murder mystery with a good amount of historical archaeology.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith


Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

When a troubled young man named Billy asks Cormoran Strike to help him investigate a crime he witnessed as a child, the private eye is left deeply troubled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.

Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott — once his assistant, now a partner in the agency — set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside. And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward. His newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been; Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much trickier than that.

It’s a year after Cormoran Strike and his detective partner Robin were splashed all over the papers having successfully captured a famous serial killer. Life has settled somewhat into a routine for them both, though the delicate balance they each hold is smashed when Billy, a troubled young man, crashes into Cormoran’s office, insisting the detective help him solve the puzzle of his having witnessed the strangling murder of a young child many years ago. Both Cormoran and Robin are drawn into the investigation – even while they query whether Billy really witnessed what he insists he did. And neither of them could have guessed where their investigation would lead.

This enormous book (very nearly 800 pages in paperback) is a really good read and well worth the investment. While it can be read by itself, I would strongly recommend at least reading the third in the series (the book directly before this one) as the opening few chapters here carry on mere minutes after the conclusion of Career Of Evil. While it is all very clear and well explained – these opening chapters will mean a lot more to readers who are desperate for a better conclusion to the previous book. After these opening scenes though, the book jumps forward a year in time and while Cormoran and Robin still have quite the history in the previous books, I feel any reader could pick the book up from this time jump and be quite comfortable.

I also mainly enjoyed the fact the very long length of the book meant there were quite a few plots all circling around. While I do admit the book could have been more harshly edited and quite a bit of the 800 odd pages could have been cut, I didn’t feel the book really was as bloated as I was expecting. The author spent a good amount of time raising and knitting together a number of plots and threads. For much of the book I really couldn’t grasp what was red herrings and what was actually relevant. This annoyed me to a degree, but then I realised the fact I was questioning this and genuinely unsure what was relevant and what was smoke and mirrors meant the author had blended everything together very successfully.

I do feel that my patience for the will they/won’t they between Cormoran and Robin is wearing thin. I understand many readers demand conflict and tension in their stories, that chemistry and suspense is critical – but after four books and having both characters still frequently miscommunicate and just assume stuff about each other is starting to grate on me. So too is the fact both flatly refuse to acknowledge – or even try to attempt to do anything – about their feelings or try for some sort of resolution or discussion. After four books it’s beginning to get old for me and I’m feeling like they’re both being a bit immature about the whole situation. I’m not ready to give up but I can definitely see my interest with the non-professional side to Cormoran and Robin’s relationship is turning to annoyance, not enjoyment.

Readers looking for an interesting and many layered mystery should find this a good – albeit very long – book. I feel that readers wanting something action orientated or with a romantic resolution won’t find that here, but I did really enjoy the mystery and I found the story very well woven together and kept my interest all the way to the end. I will definitely be reading the next book – but I will admit to hoping a few things might progress or change.

Runaway Home by Camille Anthony


Runaway Home by Camille Anthony
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Paranormal
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Fleeing the shame of being rejected in favor of an Omega, Jackson Southerly, alpha wolf, has run away to one of his family’s ski resorts.

Fleeing the shame of being left at the altar, Sioux Brown has traded in her tickets to the Bahamas and run away to the snowy slopes of Colorado, where she plans to lick her wounds in solitude.

The snow in their hearts melts as they share the deserted lobby in the dark of night, but will their growing attraction survive the light of day?

After being rejected for an Omega, Jackson Southerly decides to run away to his family’s ski resort. Sioux Brown has also fled after being literally left at the alter. Going to polar opposite of her longed for honeymoon in the Bahamas, Sioux finds herself knee deep in the snow alongside Jackson. Even though their attraction is instant, they are both at rock bottom. Will their tenuous attraction survive the long haul?

While I do admit the general concept of this story is not very unique – I did enjoy how the author managed to squeeze in quite a few twists within the first chapter to have this very short story feeling fresh and different to me. I thoroughly enjoyed the fast pace and feel readers who are wanting just a quick and tasty spicy read should find this highly enjoyable.

Disconnect your brain, sit back with a delectable drink and just enjoy the ride. I laughed in quite a few places – so don’t expect to find a complicated plot or anything too deeply serious in this lovely short story. Just enjoy the steamy shenanigans and relatable characters.

A fun and super quick read – this was a good story I enjoyed.

Sex On The Beach? by Willa Okati


Sex On The Beach? by Willa Okati
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Paranormal, LGBTQ
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Warren might be a vampire, sure, but he’s getting the knack of it. He’s cool — he can handle the wicked urge for hot blood right from a vein and has these bitchin’ fangs. He does miss the sunlight, though. No problem — he also has a lover, Dusty, the biggest-hearted, goofiest but also kinkiest vampire you’ll ever meet. When Warren gets the urge to get away, Dusty comes up with the perfect way to make unlife a beach.

Sort of.

Warren loved Dusty and since they were both Vampires they were guaranteed an eternity together to share their adventures. But when Dusty’s latest idea involves their spare room, a bunch of floodlights and an enormous amount of brown sugar even Warren isn’t sure there’s a way to come back from this.

I found this to be a highly amusing and rather sweet (sugary!) tale. While it’s clear Dusty’s heart is in the right place the more practical side to my brain was flummoxed at how virtually impossible it was going to prove to be for the two men to return their guest bedroom into any semblance of order. That said, it was a really sweet and highly fun idea that Dusty had and once the sex began I doubt Warren cared how impossible it would be to clean everything up.

Disconnect your brain, make yourself a frothy, beachy drink, and relax back to enjoy this short and funny ride. I found the two characters well matched and there were quite a few laugh aloud lines exchanged between them and their attraction burned off the pages.

Short and steamy – I found this to be a fun and enjoyable quick read.

The Cadaver Game by Kate Ellis


The Cadaver Game by Kate Ellis
Publisher: Piatkus Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

The decaying body of a woman is discovered in a suburban house in South Devon, following an anonymous tip off to the police. DI Wesley Peterson has problems establishing the woman’s identity and, as he begins to investigate her death, another disturbing case arises. Two teenagers are found shot dead at the foot of a cliff.

The teenage victims had taken part in an online game called Blood Hunt and it seems they may have been persuaded to play a sinister real-life game, which ended in their murder.

When a skeleton is found near the place where the teenagers were last seen alive, Wesley must face a terrible truth . . . and a hunt to the death.

A woman suspected of lying undiscovered for a week in her house is found and the level of decomposition has DI Wesley Peterson and his team struggling to positively identify the lady. Before they can make much progress with this case two teenagers, naked and both shot at close range with a shotgun, are found at the foot of a cliff. If this wasn’t unusual enough one of the teens has a close link to a member of the police team and when a skeleton is uncovered making it four bodies and no real connection between them Wesley really has his hands full.

I was pleased that this was another really strong addition to this series. While I do feel readers can pick this book up as a stand alone some of the secondary characters in the police team have quite a stronger than usual part to play in this book and so some prior knowledge of who is who and how everyone is linked together would be helpful I think. That said the plot itself stood very well by itself and I thought the author did a good job of knitting everything together and keeping the various plots and subplots ticking along well.

I enjoyed the fact that Welsey’s wife, Pam, didn’t factor as much as usual into this story. I’m still not a big fan of her and to be honest I felt the story moved much more smoothly and enjoyably without her impatience with Wesley and his job. After all these years of marriage I still struggle that she can be annoyed by Wesley needing to devote time – especially when there are four murder investigations all underway. I felt the book was far better for there not being a lot of Pam’s presence.

While there wasn’t a lot of Wesley’s friend, Dr Neil Watson he was integral to one of the sub plots and the skeleton and I did enjoy how he was doing something very unusual and strictly speaking not really archaeology (in a traditional sense) at all. I felt that was quite fresh and well handled.

An interesting albeit slow moving but thoroughly enjoyable British police procedural style of story with a healthy dose of history and archaeology. This was a good book and is a series I’m really growing fond of.

The Night Fire by Michael Connelly


The Night Fire by Michael Connelly
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Back when Harry Bosch was just a rookie homicide detective, he had an inspiring mentor who taught him to take the work personally and light the fire of relentlessness for every case. Now that mentor, John Jack Thompson, is dead, and his widow gives Bosch a murder book, one that Thompson took with him when he left the LAPD twenty years before — the unsolved killing of a troubled young man.

Bosch takes the murder book to Detective Renée Ballard and asks her to help him discover what about this crime lit Thompson’s fire all those years ago. As she begins her inqueries — while still working her own cases on the midnight shift — Ballad finds aspects of the initial investigation that just don’t add up.

The bond between Bosch and Ballard tightens as they become a formidable investigation team. And they soon arrive at a disturbing question: Did Thompson steal the murder book to work the case in retirement, or to make sure it never got solved?

Harry Bosch might be recovering from knee surgery, but his life is as busy as ever. After attending the memorial service for his mentor as a Detective in the LAPD, his mentor’s widow gave Harry a murder book she found while cleaning up. Harry brings it to Detective Renee Ballard and together they agree to look into the cold case. With far more questions than answers Ballard and Bosch keep at it, determined to find the truth.

I have really enjoyed watching Harry evolve over the last decade or so. Even though the character has aged – Harry is now retired (again) from the police force – much of his fire, insight and dedication is as strong as ever. I also enjoy watching Harry and Ballard work together. They are each quite independent characters, so there is a little conflict occasionally between them, but it doesn’t feel forced or like it’s used as a plot device, it feels like two headstrong people who respect each other trying to work together comfortably.

I also really enjoyed how in this book it wasn’t simply about the one case, Renee picked up a few other cases as she continued her night shift work and her regular police roster, and Harry also kept busy and decided to solve a case when his actions caused the police to stop investigating. There is plenty going on in this book to keep the reader strongly invested and I feel Connelly has absolutely grown over the years and is a masterful storyteller.

Readers should absolutely feel able to pick this book up. While there are plenty of Harry Bosch novels out there, I strongly feel this can be read by itself. Even the still developing working partnership between Bosch and Ballard can easily be understood without having read any of the previous books. This is a gripping and layered murder mystery and an interesting cross between a police procedural and a PI style of detective novel. I have really loved this series for ages now and feel this is an excellent addition and great book.

Sweets by Sean Michael


Sweets by Sean Michael
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, LGBTQ
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Fern

Jake Dubois, a divorced dad, runs the I Eat Cake blog. Every week he tastes a bakery-made cake, reviews it and attempts to recreate it. He loves the work almost as much as he loves his six-year-old daughter.

Widower Ben Rummel’s twin girls are still toddlers and he’s grateful to his mother for helping out while he runs his business, the Banana Bear Bakery. He asks the I Eat Cake blog guy to review one of his creations, hoping to increase the visibility of his newly opened bakery.

Jake loves Ben’s cake, but he’s also quite taken with the man himself and the feeling is mutual. They arrange a playdate for their girls, which lets the two men spend more time with each other, too. One get-together leads to another and soon they’re hanging out on a regular basis.

If they’re going to take their relationship deeper, they’ll have to navigate a few bumps in the road, not least of which is Jake’s ex. But if they can, they just might be able to make a life for themselves as sweet as any of Ben’s creations.

Jake, a divorced dad of a six-year-old girl, runs a video blog called I Eat Cake. When he gets a cold-call email from a local bakery requesting he sample some of their wares and potentially feature them in his blog his curiosity is aroused. Ben, a widower of three-year-old twin girls, is making his business work but knows he could do with a small boost to his PR and increase the visibility of his bakery. The two men are both taken with each other at their first meeting – professionally and personally – can they find some common ground and make something meaningful together?

I’ve been quite a fan of Sean Michael’s for quite some time and found this to be an enjoyable and emotional read from him. While it’s the second book in a series there isn’t any cross over from the first book so readers should absolutely feel comfortable picking this up as a standalone novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the slightly slower pace to the romance – the two men connected well as friends to begin with, then supported each other with the hard work of being a single parent, then slowly as their relationship bloomed it became more sensual and intimate. Readers who prefer the faster pace of insta-love might find this story a little slow but personally I really enjoyed the deeper emotional connection between the two men, particularly considering they had three young children to consider between them.

I also liked how while there was some conflict in the book it didn’t appear over the top to my mind. I sometimes find with slower paced M/M erotic romance stories like this having a crazy ex or a bigoted family member or something along those lines can be overblown and feel almost a caricature simply to add conflict. I was really impressed how the author added tension and conflict in the book with Jake’s ex but it was realistic, not overblown and – more importantly to my mind – maturely and calmly handled to a satisfying conclusion. I found this deeply refreshing and I found it equally satisfying that some legitimate concerns and questions could be handled without drama or creating conflict merely for the sake of having it. I loved this so much.

I also really enjoyed the characters themselves – while there wasn’t a huge supportive cast of secondary characters, I didn’t feel the book lacked anything for them not being present. Ben and Jake were solidly in the center stage as was their three daughters. There was plenty of variety there and I thought they kept the pace and plot of the story moving along at a good clip. I found their characters realistic, enjoyable and I found myself quite invested in Jake and Ben’s new relationship and their happiness as they blended their two families and sorted out a new life together.

Readers looking for an interesting, refreshingly different take on the M/M family romance story should find this a lovely read. With a slower romantic plot but still plenty of sizzle in the bedroom I feel this should appeal to many readers. Recommended.

Suffer The Dead by Rhys Dylan


Suffer The Dead by Rhys Dylan
Publisher: Wyrmwood Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Nothing bad ever happens in the countryside… right?

When a farmer and his son go missing whilst chasing rustlers, DCI Evan Warlow and his team are called in to investigate. Everything points to a botched raid by heartless thieves, but with no bodies, and little or no clues, the team quickly start chasing their tails.

The close-knit community reels from the shock, but not everyone the team comes across is being entirely honest, and it quickly transpires that, under their prim and proper facades, some have secrets they are desperate to keep.

But even Warlow isn’t prepared for the monstrous truth when, like a rabid sheepdog, it finally sits up and bites him on the leg.

He’s too busy trying not to get killed himself.

DCI Evan Warlow and his team had been sent far north to help a rural team investigate a father and son who have gone missing. Sheep rustling is a major problem in the quiet area and when blood and splatter is discovered on a barn next to the men’s abandoned car everyone fears for the worst. But as the team investigate, they uncover more problems hidden in the small community and soon no one is safe.

I’ve been really enjoying this Welsh based police procedural series. Written in a slightly gritter noir type of style this book hooked me from the beginning. While there is a fair bit of history between Warlow and his team members, I don’t feel readers should shy away from this book if it’s the first one they’ve come across. All the connections are quite well explained, and really the plot and setting is all easily encapsulated within this book so it stands quite well alone.

There was a bit of progress as well with the DCI and some of his personal/family story arcs which I really enjoyed. A part of me hopes we get a bit more history and background to some of the other team members in forthcoming books but there is enough of a feel of the slow-burn here that I am happy to come along for the ride, especially when the mystery and police plotlines are so well written and realistic.

I found this police procedural style of story a good read and particularly enjoyed the Welsh feel and setting.

Obedience by Isabella Jordan


Obedience by Isabella Jordan
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

A princess with a problem… Meela must marry a prince from another planet in order to ensure the security of her people. Trouble is Meela’s known to be a bit feisty, and sometimes that gets her into trouble. It’s bad enough she has no say in who she’ll marry. Worse still, the queen places an obedience curse on Meela to thwart her errant ways. As a result of the curse, Meela finds herself in plenty of predicaments not exactly fit for a princess. But what’s a princess to do when two gorgeous hunks come along and place sensual demands on her Meela’s not sure she can — or even wants to — deny?

Meela might be a feisty princess, but she knows she has to marry a prince for the good of her people. But when the Queen puts an obedience curse on her to curb her feisty ways the magic has some unexpected consequences.

I found this to be a fun and rather sassy short story. I thought the twist in the tale about the Obedience curse was a stroke of genius and I really enjoyed the slant to the story as a whole. The first chapter really setup the situation Meela had found herself in – and both the good and bad aspects to the queen’s curse – and all the sexy shenanigans rolling in from those consequences was a fun delight to read.

I thought the author showed a good balance between Meela being unable to refuse a command and having the curse force her to obey, but equally not pushing past the ilne of non-consent. I do admit that while the ending felt just a little cliched to me, it was very satisfying, and I feel most readers should be very happy with the twist.

Sexy and fun, this is a quick read I feel many readers will enjoy.