gardens and ghosts coverRating: 4.25 stars
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Length: Novel

 

After losing his husband and partner, Montana has made work his biggest focus. Along with his fellow dinosaur shifter “brothers,” Montana works for RELIC, helping to stop those trafficking in stolen fossils. As the leader of the group, Montana also helps to find newly awakened dino shifters and assist them in acclimating to their new lives in the modern world. That includes Henry, the sweet shifter the group rescued last year who now lives with the rest of the RELIC gang in Texas.

It has been a year since Henry woke up in the modern world, and in that time he has worked hard to learn all he can so he can acclimate. While Henry still has some things to learn, he has come a long way and feels ready to get out there and help the team on their missions. Henry also has a healthy crush on Montana, but the man doesn’t seem to notice Henry as more than a friend.

When the group gets word about a pair of rare fossils that have preserved a shifter mid-transition, they know they need to track them down. Not only do they not want the fossils out there on the black market, but the fact that the fossils appear to carry dino shifter DNA like theirs means a once in a lifetime opportunity for important research. With the fossils in two different locations, it means the team must split up. Montana is all set to go on his own to Chicago, but Henry is determined that he is ready to help and Montana reluctantly agrees to bring him along.

As Henry and Montana work to track down the fossil, it gives them a chance to connect and for Henry to make this feelings for Montana clear — feelings Montana is slowly realizing he returns. The men act on their attraction and Henry’s sweet nature is like a balm for the workaholic Montana. But the case ends up being even more complicated than the men had feared, as the people after the fossils are ruthless and deadly. Now, Henry and Montana have their lives on the line as they try to stop the fossils and protect their futures before it is too late.

Gardens & Ghosts is the fifth installment in Maz Maddox’s entertaining RELIC series. The series focuses on a group of shifters who lived millions of years ago as dinosaurs, then went into a hibernation state until much more modern times. This is presumably the final book in the series and, while we have a new couple in Henry and Montana, the background to their story is really set over the course of some of the prior books. Montana has been a prominent figure throughout the series and we met Henry as a newly awakened shifter in King & Queen. So I was really excited to get their story here and I love the pairing of the sweet, adorable Henry with the more jaded and experienced Montana.

The mission side of things is well done and very exciting. For reasons we learn in the story, these fossils have an importance beyond just the need to keep them out of smuggler hands, so it is crucial that Henry and Montana track down the one in Chicago. There is plenty of focus on the suspense and intensity as they investigate who has it and figure out how to get it back. But as with this whole series, there is also a nice dose of humor and playfulness that really enhances the whole thing. It gives a great balance between the more serious themes with a lot of humor and fun. It did feel a little plot forced to me that somehow Henry and Montana were the only ones who could go on this critically important mission, rather than more of the team, but it works for the story to have them out there on their own. And I loved seeing that despite being new at all the mission-related stuff, Henry can hold his own and keep up with Montana.

The romance here is also really enjoyable and I liked seeing these two men together. Montana has been awakened much longer than most of the other shifters, so he has lived a long quasi-human life. He lost his husband and partner and is still not over it, nor has he fully dealt with a sense of guilt he has over his lover’s death. At first, Montana can’t quite see Henry as more than the sweet, golden-retriever of a guy that he outwardly presents. But as the story develops, we see that there is a lot more to Henry. Montana also slowly begins to allow himself the idea of happiness with someone else. The guys are sweet and sexy and a really nice fit. Sometimes in paranormal stories where one partner is new to the world, the balance can be too far on the childlike end and the men don’t feel like equal partners. But here Maddox gets the tone right and there is a sweet and shiny side to Henry, but he also feels like an adult man with mature understanding of the world and his relationship with Montana.

This last book gives us a chance to reconnect with the whole RELIC team and really wraps things up nicely, both for the group as a whole and for Henry and Montana. This is a really fun shifter series and Maddox’s love for dinosaurs really shines through. This final story pulls it all together well and I enjoyed it a lot.
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