A Far Better Thing – JD Wilburn

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
I struggled to get into this book for a while, but I came to the conclusion in the end it was me, not the book, so whilst it took me a while to get into it, and therefore review it, I ended up actually quite liking this one, much to my surprise.

Bo Alexander is a detective for the Galveston PD. We first meet her on a stakeout trying to get information about the Voleurs – a well-known biker gang, who are up to something on the island – but she can’t work out what.

In the undertakings of her job, she encounters Cass Halliburton, the number two of the Voleurs, essentially her enemy and the person she needs to get the better of in order to make her operation work. The only problem is their attraction to each other.

To be honest, neither character is particularly likeable, yet somehow that seemed to be ok for me. Bo has issues, many of them, mainly related to her past. Cass has them too, from her past and choice of employment. I wouldn’t say I found either character redeemable, but I found them interesting. There was enough intrigue and subterfuge within the narrative to make me want to keep reading once I got past the first quarter of the book, though I wasn’t surprised by the eventual reveal.

The ending was a downer for me, but I’m hoping it means there will be another part to the series.

This is a good first-time novel for Wilburn and I will definitely be interested in their next book, whether that’s a follow-up to this or not. I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re not into dark characters who screw up a lot.

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Devil Incarnate – Ali Vali

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
I had every intention of reading all of the books in this series and had taken the upcoming release of this book as the opportunity to read the series, even go far as purchasing them all – then life got in the way. I didn’t want to wait to review the book, so this review comes with a disclaimer. I’m reviewing this, the somewhere between the 8th and 10th book of the series depending on how you count, without knowing anything that happened in any of the other books.

Despite the disclaimer I’m happy to say I loved it. It’s a solid 4.5 star book for me and I hope that I’ll be able to up that to a 5 once I’ve had the opportunity to go back and catch up on the past and how the characters got to where they are now.

Being a mobster, Cain isn’t necessarily supposed to be a likeable character, but I enjoyed her redeeming qualities nonetheless. I loved her relationship with Emma and their children, as well as her relationship with her friends and associates. Cain is a character with lots of depth and is extremely well written.

There were certainly some moments that were confusing for me, because the cast of characters is large and dependent on information I clearly didn’t have, however none of that stopped me enjoying how Vali threads together the narrative and the characters and how everything fits together.

Like most series the introduction of so many characters can mean that the characters you love the most don’t appear as much in the later books as you’d like and I found myself wanting more Cain and Emma – so I’m interested as to whether this will still be the same once I’ve read more.

I can only say I would imagine that if you’ve read the rest of this series, you’ll again enjoy this one, but as someone coming fresh to the series, I’d encourage you to give it a go (perhaps with the first book unlike me).

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Love Kills Twice – Rien Gray

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
I was really surprised as to just how much I enjoyed this storyline. At first glance from the blurb I thought I’d enjoy another character on the outskirts of right and wrong (in this case, very wrong) but I was genuinely surprised just how much Gray hooked me into liking this premise.

The story centres on an assassin – Campbell – who has been hired by both a husband and wife to kill each other. The point of view in the book alternates between Campbell and Justine – the wife.

Whilst Justine is an interesting character, and the reasons for the hiring are explored in depth, Campbell is the interesting and intriguing part of the whole narrative for me. I’m keen for more non-binary characters and whilst Campbell is clearly deliberately kept a bit of a mystery to add to the intrigue there was enough here to make things really compelling.

The chemistry between the two of them is very hot, including some light BDSM and breath play.

I liked the addition of the lawyer character so Campbell doesn’t seem so completely out there, and the small glimpses into their past help with seeing why Justine could fall for them. I’m definitely hoping that we get to past more of the mystery surrounding Campbell in the second book.

The storyline does end quite abruptly, but the length of the novella/novel kept the writing really tight and I think it would have felt quite strange to have gone from where we end to the next step. The next part is due later in the year and I’m definitely looking forward to it.

If you’re fond of characters on the moral edge there’s a lot here to enjoy.

As you’d expect from the topic there are some potential triggers and the publisher has these labelled really well, including some past military trauma and some off page domestic abuse.

This does appear to be the first main published work from Gray, but there is mention of other work which I’m definitely eager to find now!

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Message in Blood – Catherine Maiorisi

Rating: 5 out of 5.
This is the latest part in the Chiara Corelli Mystery series and as far as I’m concerned the best one yet. I should say upfront, this book won’t be for everyone, it deals with the very difficult topic of child sex-trafficking and discusses this in graphic detail at times, however the uncomfortable nature of the topic is outweighed by the underlying relationships that thrive in this book.

Chiara is now beginning to gain public awareness for her work in a good light again after her previous battles due to her undercover work. Chiara is more aware of her own issues, especially with her PTSD and is more open to confronting her feelings and behaviours towards others. This growth from book one is one of my favourite parts of this book.

There is a general awareness throughout the book of how people interact with each other in all of the horrible ways. It discusses racism, cops, politicians, the military, family and many other things with an honesty that I found refreshing and at times profound. The way Maiorisi weaves these concepts through the narrative, giving each its moment and relevance to the overall narrative is masterfully done.

The complicated elements of love and loss and moving on are looked from many different perspectives. Chiara is opening her heart to the possibility of a relationship with Brett, and I especially love how Brett approaches this with her. P.J. has her own battles to fight with her past, and I love how she has grown and fits together with Chiara and her family.

Family is at the heart of much of the narrative, both in positive and negative ways. Chiara’s sister and her story arc in this book actually made me cry.

The mystery element of the book was done really well. As I mentioned it revolves around the very difficult topic of child sex trafficking and is graphic at times, so I had to take a break at times, but I think it’s done in a realistic and non-gratuitous manner. We’re kept in suspense until the very end as to the perpetrator and I enjoyed the twists that came with this storyline.

Whilst the book covers many hard topics, I find that upon reflection the feeling I was left with when I finished reading was warmth. Maiorisi finishes this book in a way that would neatly tie up the series should this be her choice, but I have to say I would love for her to continue to tell Chiara and P.J’s stories, especially at this high standard.

If you haven’t started this series yet, do.

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Standby Counsel – Alexi Venice

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
3.5 stars.

The second part in the Monica Spade series, Monica is just settling in after having started her own law practice with her other colleagues who also escaped the misogynistic, homophobic practice they were previously at.

Monica doesn’t specialises in criminal law, yet she finds herself requested by the court to act as standby counsel for Stela – a female student at the local university who has been arrested for murdering her boyfriend.

I enjoyed the premise of the book. I’m a fan of queer law/crime based books and wasn’t previously aware of the concept of a standby counsel, so I found this refreshing. The interactions Monica has with Stela are both strangely amusing and kind of creepy, adding another dimension to the book.

The case isn’t straightforward and brings unexpected elements into Monica’s life, including some stalking and some of the acronym based law enforcement agencies. These inclusions were done well, stoking but not over-exaggerating conspiracy theories.

One of my frustrations with the book was the length. There were times where things could have been shortened as they repeated things that had previously happened. For instance this happens when counsellors are undertaking their closing arguments. I found myself skimming over these sections.

Monica’s interactions with non-crime related characters were a little hit and miss. Her relationships with her colleagues are well written. There was a bit of a jealously sub plot with her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s ex that left me feeling a little strange about the HEA.

I’d definitely be interested in a third part to this series if it happens and would recommend anyone who likes some queer romance and lawyers combined to give this series a go.

I received an e-ARC via BookSirens in exchange for an honest review.