Sticks & Stones - Abigail Roux, Madeleine Urban

Sticks & Stones is the second book in the Cut & Run series. After reading the first book Cut & Run, I swiftly moved onto the next one in the series (I love getting into a series where most of the books are already out!) and I have to say, I enjoyed it even more than the first one.

At the end of the first book, FBI Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett were made full-time partners. Both are facing an even more difficult prospect this time round though - they have mostly been kept on desk duty, following the traumatic events at the end of the first book. Forced to take some time out to recuperate, Ty invites Zane to come home with him to West Virginia and meet his family.

Ty's family are every bit as wacky and eccentric as he is and Zane is made to feel right at home. Zane joins Ty, Ty's father Earl, and his brother Deacon on a hike up into the Appalachian Mountains hoping that the peace and quiet will lay to rest some of damage that the pair have been carrying around. What they find isn't quite what they hoped for - they stumble upon treasure seekers who will do anything (including killing any unwary hikers) to keep their undertaking secret. Not only that but the group must contend with dangerous weather conditions, wild animals, and keep from turning on each other...

As much as I loved the first book, Sticks & Stones was definitely a vast improvement. Although the storyline was in some respects weaker (the serial killer plot from the first book was more on the edge-of-your-seat thrilling) what really made this one stand out was the character growth and interaction. Ty and Zane are both fascinating characters and I really felt like I got to know these two damaged men much better. I also loved Ty's family (even Earl!) and how they were interwoven into the plot.

I also appreciated the fact that the authors didn't try to do a similar story to the first book (and I get the impression from what I have read so far about further entries in the series that every book is very different from the last one). The serial killer story in Cut & Run really clicked for me and although I didn't find the story in this quite as gripping, I liked that this had a distinct change of pace. Don't get me wrong, it was still nail-biting in some scenes but slow enough that the characters personalities and idiosyncrasies really shone through - the interpersonal interactions really took centre stage.

What really stands out so far with this series is the main characters. Ty and Zane are both very interesting, conflicting, emotional, raw and, ultimately, real characters. You feel their struggle, their pain, their inner turmoil - even when they are showing nothing at all. Both are very adept at hiding their feelings (in different ways) which makes their relationship so very fascinating.

I have so far really enjoyed what i have read of this series and cannot wait to see what is to come.