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    REVIEW: Fractured Souls by Ava Marie Salinger

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    Fallen Messengers: Fractured Souls – Ava Marie Salinger

    Humans are dying in San Francisco. The most shunned angel on Earth may very well hold the key as to why…

    When Cassius Black moves to San Francisco for a fresh start, the angel’s hopes of staying below the radar of the supernatural organizations that oversee the otherworldly and magic users in the city are dashed when he stumbles across a dead body in the sewers. His grim discovery soon puts him in the sight of the Argonaut Agency and Francis Strickland, the bureau director who knows his darkest secrets. 

    Morgan King and his team of Argonaut agents have been hunting for the culprits behind a series of gruesome killings that have rocked the city all summer. Killings that bear sinister hallmarks of sacrificial rituals where the victims’ souls have been ripped from their bodies. When Fate brings Cassius in Morgan’s path, he realizes the angel everyone likes to call The Devil may very well be the only person who can help them track down the murderers.

    Morgan and Cassius soon find themselves chasing down a sect of black magic sorcerers and cross paths with a mysterious warlock whose actions evoke disturbing echoes of an incident from Cassius’s past. As rumors of a potential plot to tear the Nether reach their ears, Cassius and Morgan must work together to defeat their common enemy and save the city from destruction, all while fighting their growing attraction for one another.

    Fractured Souls is the first novel in the MM urban fantasy romance series Fallen Messengers. If you like action-packed paranormal adventures with romance and snark, then get this pulse-pounding book today and enter a world you won’t want to leave!


    If I make a list of books I’d love to see as a movie, Fractured Souls would definitely be on it. This book delivers the action-packed paranormal adventure it promised.

    Fractured Souls is the first book of Fallen Messengers, an urban fantasy/paranormal series set in a world after The Fall. There was a huge rift, and all manner of magical and mythical creatures now walked the earth. Four major organizations are in charge of keeping supernatural creatures in line.

    The world-building is exceptionally detailed without overwhelming or bogging down the pace. I loved this world of the Fallen the author created. It’s incredibly fascinating to read about beings from the deepest pits of hell and from the highest hierarchies of heaven.

    I liked the writing as well. It flowed smoothly and briskly, but major credit is also due to narrator Alex Kydd’s masterful delivery. He did an awesome job bringing the characters to life and made going through the info-dumps a breeze.

    The story is told in the POVs of the angel, Cassius Black, a much-feared pariah in the supernatural world, and cocky Argonaut agent, Morgan King, also an angel. They were forced to work together to solve the mystery of the ‘fractured souls’ and prevent another rift from happening. The bigger mystery here is who or what exactly are Cassius Black and Morgan King?

    I liked Cass from the get-go. As the story progressed, it became apparent that Cass was so much more powerful than he already was. It was also revealed that while he is the most reviled and hated creature on earth, the unassuming man is actually a self-sacrificing cinnamon roll worthy of the highest sainthood. This is the guy who secretly saved the world and continues to do so as we speak. That he is a bit of a tsundere only added to his appeal.

    I didn’t like Morgan at first. Probably still don’t like him 100%. He was a pushy asshole. He kinda redeemed himself when it became clear he wasn’t taking any of the shit people throw at Cass, and he’s going to break the neck of the next person who is mean to the poor angel. I’ll go easy on him since he has Cassius’ back, and they’re great as a team.

    Not sure I’m totally onboard with Cassius and Morgan’s romance. Their chemistry didn’t come across as strongly as I would have liked. Although, the story did a good job building up the mystery relating to their true identities and their connection. I’ve read other reviews extolling the virtues of Victor, Cass’s demon ex. I prefer an angel-demon merger, so I couldn’t help wishing this was their story instead.

    The rest of the cast drew me in almost immediately. They are from Morgan’s team. I enjoyed the banters and their various personal connections to each other. My favorite part was how they took Cassius to their fold after knowing his innate goodness and became his biggest allies.

    The coolest part of the book is the fight scenes. Oh hell yeah! You get mind-blowing displays of powers from various supernatural creatures. From angels and demons to witches and mages, no one held anything back. I think it would look super mega fantastic on screen!

    It did feel a bit too Son Goku, the way Cass’s and Morgan’s powers kept leveling up and up and up. And up. But it didn’t dampen the experience because the scenes was all friggin’ AMAZING!!! And I adore Cass and enjoy seeing him so badass. Also, I love superhero movies and superpowers, so I was living for everything!

    Fractured Souls is an action-packed series opener, where the fallen walk the earth and demons rise from the pits of hell. It got all the snark and romance, magic and mayhem you could ever ask for. All in all, fascinating, entertaining, and hella spectacular!

    Rating:
    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

    Soundtrack: A Thousand Shards Of Heaven
    Artist: Lunatic Soul
    Album: Fractured


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    FRACTURED SOULS

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    REVIEW: The Solnyshko Duet by Ashlyn Drewek

    I grabbed this series on a whim because I like the word ‘solnyshko.’ I was glad it was the weekend because I ended up reading until 5:00 AM. I finished the first book in one sitting. This duet is just sooo good.

    Now this might not be most people’s cup of tea. This comes with a list of warnings, from homophobia to graphic violence and PTSD. Things get nasty, even horrific, at some points. So please do head the TWs.

    Beyond all that darkness, this is a story of ‘two broken people who found each other,‘ according to the author’s notes. It all started with a kidnapping…


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    The Solnyshko Duet: The Kidnapping Of Roan Sinclair – Ashlyn Drewek

    Roan Sinclair’s life is perfect, just ask anyone. Set to graduate college and bound for grad school at Georgetown, Roan’s life has been all planned out for him. Except, he doesn’t want it. Dedicated to his music, he dreams of a life free from his parents’ expectations. Those dreams are gone the minute he’s kidnapped by a group of Russians, led by the tall, dark, and broody Sasha — a man ripped straight from Roan’s fantasies. Determined to make it out alive, Roan will do whatever is necessary to secure his freedom, even if that means seducing his captor.

    Aleksandr Vassiliev doesn’t care about anything except surviving in a merciless world. Known as the Wolf of Verkhoyansk, Sasha’s reputation for brutality is far-reaching and well-deserved. When a bank robbery goes wrong, he’ll do whatever he can to fix it — including kidnapping the bank owner’s son. Instead of complying like he should, Roan defies Sasha at every turn. Worst of all, he makes Sasha want things he can’t have, things that are a death sentence for men like him. Things like Roan Sinclair.

    Content warning: This book contains references to alcohol/drug use, sexual assault, graphic violence, self-harm, ethnic and homosexual slurs, and a lot of profanity. Reader discretion is advised.


    Roan Sinclair is a poor little rich boy trapped in a gilded cage. Music is his passion, but his banker dad blackmailed him to take a business major. He has one year to go before he leaves for business school.

    Aleksandr ‘Sacha’ Vassiliev is a feared, ruthless killer, not a bank robber and certainly not a kidnapper. But when a bank heist had gone wrong, a heist they didn’t fully understand why they had to do, he and his fellow bratva members were forced to change tactics. They kidnapped the banker’s son instead.

    It wasn’t the most ideal meeting, to say the least, but right from the get-go, Roan got under Sacha’s skin. Given his environment, the Russian is deeply in the closet. But he pinged Roan’s gaydar, and our boy used it to his advantage.

    One of the things I really loved about the books was the writing. There were no long paragraphs, and it’s very easy to read. The prose is straight to the point. Just 3-4 sentences per paragraph, yet they conveyed everything the reader needs to know. You feel the emotions jumping off the page. The graphic bits were written to show the nastiness without being gratuitous.

    Thawing the cold, dead heart of a man like Sacha is an impossible feat. Our boy Roan not only brought it back to life, but he became the center of Sacha’s universe. I was completely riveted to their journey, swept away by a tide of emotions. The story is devastating, painful, and, as mentioned, quite dark. But the lighter moments when they come is as heart-warming and bright as the proverbial solnyshko the duet is named after.

    It ends with a HFN but this is one of the best Stockholm Syndrome romances for me!

    Rating:
    5 Stars – absolutely perfect

    Soundtrack: Captivate You
    Artist: Marmozets
    Album: The Weird And Wonderful Marmozets


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    The Solnyshko Duet: The Vengeance Of Roan Sinclair – Ashlyn Drewek

    After a lifetime of death and suffering, Aleksandr Vassiliev finally has everything he could ever want — the most important being someone to share his future with. Somehow a spoiled American named Roan gave Sasha a reason to see life could be more. Except, that’s where the fairytale ends. He’s not surprised Roan hasn’t been the same since his attack, but with every day that passes, Sasha sees less and less of the boy he fell in love with. He would do anything to get his Solnyshko back, but old enemies from Sasha’s past might end up costing him everything, even Roan.

    Roan Sinclair used to have it all. Now? He’s a shell of his former self. No longer the rich, carefree college guy who brought a Russian criminal to his knees, all he’s trying to do is recover from an assault that nearly killed him. Roan knows he should be grateful to be alive… but he’s not. He’s humiliated. Ashamed. Most of all, he’s angry. He hasn’t forgotten the part his dad played in everything that happened and when he threatens Sasha’s freedom, Roan takes a page from the Russian’s playbook. Maybe vengeance will piece him back together. Maybe then Roan can move on and get to the happily ever after he so desperately wants with the Wolf of Verkhoyansk.

    Content warning: This book contains references to alcohol/smoking, ethnic and homosexual slurs, sexual assault, mental health issues including PTSD and depression, on-page torture, and a lot of profanity. Reader discretion is advised.


    The second book picks up on the aftermath of the very traumatic events of Book 1. Roan is not in a good place, and Sacha is at his wit’s end. He does everything he thinks would help Roan, but the younger man isn’t taking it well.

    Here we have the major presence of Misha, Sacha’s boss, who is also sort of a friend and Misha’s nephew, Ilya. Sacha hired the young man to be Roan’s bodyguard. The easy going man provided a normalcy in Roan’s life during these troubled times.

    Misha has intrigued me since Book 1. He offers Sacha advice on his Roan situation. Where Sacha is a grumpy mofo, Misha is all easy smiles. But make no mistake, they are both wolves. I am so thrilled the bratva boss is going to have his own book!

    I struggled for a bit in the first part because going through Sacha and Roan’s rocky patch wasn’t a pleasant experience. It was angsty and raw. Communication isn’t their strongest suit, and you can really feel how bad they were struggling. All of these is worth going through just to get to the part where Roan smiles and Sacha declares, his sun is back!

    And that’s when we get to the vengeance portion of the story. Roan wants revenge for what his father did, and a ghost from the past is out to get Sacha. I really enjoyed this arc because it felt happier and lighter despite the gruesome bratva business.

    Sacha and Roan evolved to become the power couple they were meant to be. The pace here was also smoother and faster, and there was more action. Characters from the author’s other series popped up, the very mysterious Leander and his flamboyant husband, Bennet. I must investigate these two.

    Both books go through suspenseful, brutal climaxes where the piper is paid in blood and gore. But this time, the ending is a solid and very satisfying HEA. It was such a sweet and uplifting conclusion that sensation of relief was very palpable. I couldn’t ask for a better one for Sasha and Roan! Sometimes all you need in life is a new lease and some sunshine.

    Rating:
    4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away

    Soundtrack: Who Needs The Sunshine?
    Artist: The Heavy
    Album: Great Vengeance And Furious Fire


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    The Kidnapping Of Roan Sinclair :US | UK
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    REVIEW: Thick As Thieves by Lucy Lennox

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    Thick As Thieves – Lucy Lennox

    Julian:

    I’ve been in love with my best friend since forever. Okay, fine. Like, kindgergarten. It started out platonic, obviously, but then became… nope. Still platonic. The problem is that Parker Ellis has been straight since forever. And that makes it difficult to convince him the two of us are meant to be together.

    And now there’s no point. All is lost. He’s gone and gotten engaged to his high-school sweetheart which means I have to grin and bear it while pretending to be the happy, supportive best man while he prepares to commit his life to a woman I can’t even fault. She’s great. We’ve all been friends forever. I know he’ll be happy with Erin, just not… just not as happy as he could be with me.

    Parker:

    I’ll admit. Sometimes I press the easy button. Like when Julian Thick had offered me half his sandwich back in grade school after noticing I didn’t have any food. Or when I’d needed a date to homecoming in tenth grade and Erin told me she was it. Or when I’d used the one thing that came easy to me, skiing, to get my college tuition paid for. Or when Erin had showed back up in my life six months ago and told it was time to marry and start a family…

    But for the first time in my life I’m facing something that’s not at all easy. It’s my wedding weekend and I’ve just been left at the altar. Not only that, but when my best friend whisks me away to drown my sorrows in a snowy cabin in Aster Valley, I accidentally discover Julian’s been keeping secrets. Big secrets.

    The kind of secrets that lead to hot experimental kisses in front of a blazing fire, tentative physical exploration in a way I’d never imagined before, and the kind of intimate, true confessions I’d never even dreamed of between me and the one person who’s always been my true home.

    But after twenty-plus years of thinking of Jules as my friend without benefits, is it truly possible to change who we are to each other? There’s no easy button this time, but I’m willing to do the work. I only wonder if Julian is ready to trust I really mean it.


    This outstanding contemporary romance series makes another stop in the idyllic town of Aster Valley with this deliciously pine-y childhood friends-to-lovers tale.

    Thick As Thieves is about lawyer Julian Thick being hopelessly in love with his best friend, Parker Ellis, since kindergarten. As these things usually go, Parker is spectacularly oblivious to Jules’ more than friendly feelings for him.

    Now Parks has been dating their other friend, Erin, on and off for years. They’re finally going to tie the knot. On the day of the wedding, Erin ghosted. Ever the loyal friend, Jules takes Parker to his secluded cabin in Aster Valley to console him. The very cabin he intended to be his wallowing hole where he drinks his feelings to oblivion and gets over Parks once and for all.

    This is where things heated up because Parker is coming to realize his feelings for Julian, not just now but since the beginning, has always been something more. This, after fending off a Grinder hook-up who turned up at the cabin. One sent to Jules by their well-meaning a.k.a. meddling friends.

    I love all the Aster Valley books. This one is as fabulous as the rest. It is a great example of why the friends-to-lovers trope is so squee-tastic. There are a million takes on the trope, but Lucy Lennox still made it fresh, exciting, and HELLA SWOONY!!!

    Jules and Parks have known each other all their lives so the chemistry is pretty much a given, but no less fantastic. Their relationship felt comfortable and solid as friends. Their transition to boyfriends happened very naturally. There was a sense of rightness to it as things clicked into place. There’s something so beautiful about two people who are always meant to be together fulfilling that destiny and finding their HEA.

    My heart went out to Julian. He practically endured everything for his best friend. Parker is a doofus for not recognizing his feelings for his best friend for that long. But when he realized he was in love with Jules, he was all in, 101%. They’re amazing together!

    Hands down, my favorite part was the contract. Young Jules and Parks signed a piece of paper with the words “You and Me. Always” written on it. Unknown to Parker, Jules held on to that piece of paper for decades. That scene where he discovered it, I was as blown away as Parker! It was just sooo sweet and so Julian!

    Much later, cheesy sappy guy that he is, Parker amended the contract. And blew Jules away.

    One of the themes is how safety nets could become bad habits. This is shown through Erin, who wants to be adventurous, but returns to Parker again and again because she feels comfortable with him. She is not evil. Mostly, she’s a confused person who doesn’t take responsibility for her actions and doesn’t know what she wants from life.

    Here’s the thing with this series. I’ve come across real vile villains in many books, but I have never been affected by any of them. Here, the antagonists are ordinary people who are merely unlikeable, yet their scenes make me feel so bad they take me out of the story. The author really knows how to get under the readers’ skin.

    It happened again with Erin’s scene. Parker had a long overdue talk with her. I know it was needed for closure and clearing the way for Jules. But it went on for so long. It was repetitive and just plain tiresome. I felt so bored I nearly dropped the book. I held on because I was rooting really hard for Jules and Parker, and they’re close to the finish line.

    Overall, Thick As Thieves is a fulfillment of a promise backed by 20 years of memories, unrequited feelings, and loyal friendship. It’s heartwarming, sweet, cheesy, and a damn good reason to stay in Aster Valley, always.

    Rating:
    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

    Soundtrack: Always Forever
    Artist: Cults
    Album: Static

    P.S.

    Thick As Thieves can be read as a standalone but why miss out on the other charming men of Aster Valley?
    Witness a dreamy rock star romance in Winter Waites.
    Meet the sassy chef and his adoring football player in Right As Raine.
    There’s an adorkable bumblebee in need of a knight in shining motorbike in Sweet As Honey
    A starstruck sheriff clashes with a trouble magnet in Hot As Heller


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    THICK AS THIEVES

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    REVIEW: Moonstruck by Onley James

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    Necessary Evils: Moonstruck – Onley James

    Atticus Mulvaney is the eldest son of eccentric billionaire, Thomas Mulvaney—a role he takes very seriously. Atticus takes everything seriously. Like his brothers, Atticus is a psychopath, raised to right the wrongs of a broken justice system. Unlike his brothers, he’s not very good at it.

    Jericho Navarro is no psychopath, but he is a vicious killer. Like Atticus, he also has a secret life. To most, he’s just a mechanic. But to a ragtag group of social misfits, he’s Peter Pan, teaching them to eliminate those who prey on the weak with extreme prejudice.

    When Atticus and Jericho come face to face over a shared enemy, their accidental meeting ends in an explosively hot hookup neither can forget. But they have nothing in common. Atticus is a buttoned-up closeted scientist and Jericho is a man on a mission, determined to find and punish those responsible for the death of his sister. Still, Jericho can’t stay away. And, truthfully, Atticus doesn’t want him to.

    As Jericho’s mission begins to bleed into Atticus’s life, two separate but equally brutal families will need to learn how to fight together to take out a common enemy. But no amount of brute force can show Jericho how to scale the walls of a psychopath’s heart. Can Jericho convince Atticus that, sometimes, the couple who kills together stays together?

    Moonstruck is a high heat, intense psychopath romance with an HEA and no cliffhangers. It features a fumbling, sexually confused maniac and the dominating, unapologetic gang leader who can’t stop tormenting him. As always, there’s gratuitous violence, very dark humor, more killers than you can count, and enough explosive chemistry to level a city block. This is book three in the Necessary Evils series. Each book follows a different couple.


    More Mulvaney madness today. Couldn’t get enough of this crazy family!

    Moonstruck is the 3rd book of Necessary Evils, a series about a family of serial killers meting punishment to fellow monsters. The family was founded by Thomas, a billionaire and a genius psychiatrist, who adopted seven boys, Atticus, August, twins Asa and Avi, Archer, Aidan, and Adam. They were carefully selected and trained to be highly accomplished individuals in various fields by day and deadly vigilante killers by night.

    Now August might be my favorite Mulvaney, but I have a soft spot a mile wide for my grumpy Atticus. He was the first to be adopted and, therefore, felt pressured to make Daddy Mulvaney proud.

    Atticus tries so hard to be perfect but always felt like he’s coming up short. Like his brothers, the man is an over-achiever. He is both M.D. and Ph.D. The thing with Atticus, trained killer that he is, the man actually hates killing (because it’s unsanitary). And by his brothers’ accounts, isn’t very good at it.

    On one of his assignments, he stumbles upon another killer, Jericho Navarro, in what was perhaps the most perfect meet-cute for a pair of murderers ever! Bossy mechanic Jericho promptly latched on to the grumpy ginger, recognizing the man’s submissive nature from the get-go. Gives him the most adorable nickname you can give a psychopath, “Freckles“.

    “I’m not letting you go, Freckles. I’m just not. You can call it a business arrangement, an affair, a kidnapping, some kind of midlife crisis. But whatever you call it, you’re mine. And I protect what’s mine.”

    I’m not a fan of dirty talk and, man, Jericho has a mouth on him! Other than that, it was a lot of fun watching Atticus’ prickly submissive nature meshed with Jericho’s affectionate dominance. It’s not just Atticus’ submissiveness. Jericho was also quick to recognize and appreciate everything good about his man.

    “Do you think I want anybody else? Nobody compares to you, Freckles. You are this weirdly perfect combination of impenetrable and vulnerable and I can’t fucking get enough of it.”

    The family’s reactions to their relationship were one of the best parts. Atticus’ brothers could be such asshats sometimes, so watching Jericho defend his Freckles gave me great satisfaction. He even called Thomas out for his treatment of his eldest son. Jericho goes declaring he wants to be Atticus everything, including be his proxy killer. And sure enough, he holds true to it. As Thomas puts it, Atticus found himself a good one!

    I was so happy for my favorite grumpy ginger getting his HEA. Atticus’ special ability is mimicry. He’s used to mirroring other people, but he rarely gets to be himself. I loved how he took the courage to embrace his truth and proved he could be just as good as his brothers.

    The scenes where Atticus eats granola bars while complaining about his paper not being front page in JAMA, and Jericho, fresh from a kill Atticus gifted him with, soothing his prickly man, is most definitely a very Mulvaney brand of endearing. It pretty much screams TRUE LOVE Murder Husbands-style. This is a trope I couldn’t get enough of, and watching these two serial killers falling in love is like the best thing ever!

    Atticus slipped his thigh between Jericho’s, snuggling closer to tuck his head against his chest. “I know. I don’t like killing, but I’d kill for you, too.” Jericho’s stomach fluttered. “I know, Freckles. I know.”

    Also, Atticus and Jericho cuddled and watched Labyrinth!!! ☆*:.。. o(≧▽≦)o .。.:*☆

    The story is part romance and part mystery. The mystery involved Jericho’s missing sister. I wasn’t as invested in this as I was with the other books. It wasn’t as strongly delivered compared to the first two books.

    Also, the series started dark but is leaning more towards steamy and humorous in this 3rd installment. I would have preferred a bit more darkness to offset that, the way the 2nd book, Psycho, perfectly balanced fluff, steam, and dark. 

    The case was, however, a great way to bring everyone together. All hands were on deck to solve it, including Jericho’s crew of young killers. These guys are awesome! They need their own spinoff. Jericho’s brother, Felix, will have a thing with Avi. So excited for the twins! Just a teensy bit disappointed they won’t be sharing. The plot also spent time building up Aiden and Thomas’ story. Hoo boy, I am beyond excited to see how this works!

    Moonstruck continues the wonderful and worthwhile tradition of giving the Mulvaney brothers their HEA. Atticus and Jericho’s relationship might have started with murder, but it certainly breathed new life to a mimic who learned how to be himself and found his perfect match in a man who was his opposite.

    The story is equal parts a very swoony insta-love romance, a riveting found family saga, and a crime procedural handled by vigilantes who love to get their hands dirty. I might not be completely over the moon about everything, but I definitely love this book to bits!

    Rating:
    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

    Soundtrack: Every Other Freckle
    Artist: Alt-J
    Album: This Is All Yours

    P.S.

    The Mulvaney tradition starts with the youngest, Adam the supermodel serial killer, and his feisty person, Noah, in Unhinged. It continues with the psycho and the psychic, August and Lucas, in Psycho.


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    REVIEW: Christmas Wish List by N.R. Walker

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    Hartbridge Christmas: Christmas Wish List – N.R. Walker

    In need of work and a change of scenery, Aussie ex-pat Jayden Turner agrees to a short-term chef position at a Bed and Breakfast over the Christmas holidays. After all, how hard could it be in a small town in the mountains of Montana? What he finds is a grand old house in a beautiful town, and his new boss is gorgeous, gay, and single.

    After his divorce, Carter “Cass” Campion bought his great-aunt’s rundown country manor in his home town, and he’s determined to get it ready for the busy holiday period. Recently out as gay, he’s been focused solely on his business and hasn’t had time for a man. Not that many gay men come through Hartbridge . . .

    As his new clients arrive, and being away from his two kids, celebrating Christmas is the last thing on Cass’s mind. But his new chef has other ideas. And if there’s one thing on his Christmas Wish List this year, Jayden can make it come true.


    I’m not really into Christmas romances. I find them too cheesy and, well… Christmasy, for my taste. But then this book grabbed me right away, from the first time I featured its release on this blog. I mean, look at that cover!

    Christmas Wish List is a holiday, insta-love romance between a charming and talented chef who had enough of the drifter life and a divorced and newly-out small-town guy with a newly-opened bed and breakfast. It is the 2nd book of the Hartbridge Christmas series. It can be read as a standalone.

    The story starts with Jayden Turner, an Aussie ex-pat whose been all over the States for 15 years. He just arrived in Hartbridge for his Christmas temp job. After nearly getting lost, he meets his boss, Carter Campion, the man who single-handedly renovated an old grand manor into the magnificent Arabella Bed and Breakfast.

    With guests arriving in just a couple of days, Jayden soon realized there were still a lot of to-dos in an ever-growing number of to-do lists his distractable boss scattered throughout the property. It didn’t help Jayden was a distraction himself, with his megawatt smiles, engaging humor, and indecent proposals. Or did it?

    Jayden’s incessant flirting with his boss nearly irritated me, but he did it with so much good cheer, you couldn’t help but be charmed. He’s sweet, thoughtful, and very dedicated to feeding people. He’s a guy who knows what he wants and doesn’t hesitate to tell you. Yep, he’s a bossy one!

    I loved that this is not a grumpy+sunshine story. Cass is a total sweetheart. He’s a gentle, unassuming guy who starts doing a million things then forgets after being distracted by yet another task that needs to be done. He’s so unassuming that Jayden (and I) was surprised the man was a top-level executive.

    Having been in the closet most of his life, Cass’ life as a newly out gay man didn’t change much from before. He feels so guilty about ruining his marriage and his kids’ lives that he doesn’t let himself be happy. Cass is lonely and touched-starved. It so happens there’s a very attractive gay man who is very eager to show him the gay experience…

    With so much regret, he explicitly stated that he has a business to run and that if things went sideways with Jayden, he’d be left without a chef for Christmas. I totally applaud Cass here. The man was clearly being practical and responsible, especially after all the time, money, and effort he put into the BnB.

    This is why I wasn’t that pleased with Cass’s friend, Rem, encouraging him to hook up with his new and only employee. I was also annoyed at the repetitive parts where Jayden does one thing, apologizes about it, then keeps doing it anyway.

    Gripes aside, the romance was magical! It was a joyous celebration of freedom, first times, and the simple, heartwarming comfort of holding hands. The last one was my favorite.

    Cass and Jayden are all about communication. I loved that they do it with such easy openness. They clicked right away. They were a solid team from day one even with a deadline hanging over their head.

    It was so endearing to see Cass’ character grow with Jayden’s guidance, slowly gaining confidence to truly embrace his truth. The way he lit up with each new experience was quite adorable. Jayden is pure sunshine for being the kind of person who brings joy in everyday moments.

    The story could have easily gone in a steamier, angstier direction, but I loved where N.R. Walker took this. The mood hit the sweet spot for a holiday read. It’s light, humorous, cozy, and soo sweet and fluffy without being too precious.

    This feel-good romance touches upon family, setting roots and grabbing happiness whenever you can. The setting is simply fabulous! Hartbridge is an idyllic, picture-perfect town full of friendly, hardworking people.

    The two major secondary characters are Rem and Hamish. They are the couple from Book 1., Tic-Tac-Mistletoe. I haven’t read it yet. Now, I want to because these two are equally lovable! Cass’ ex-wife, Kendra, and their kids, Wyatt and Charlotte, were awesome too.

    Overall, Christmas Wish List is a heartwarming, feel-good Hallmark romance filled with wonderful people, sumptuous food, cozy settings, and sweet, uplifting moments. There’s even a wedding! It’s everything you can ever wish for in a Christmas story and more!

    Rating:
    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

    Soundtrack: Stay With Me
    Artist: Better Love
    Album: All I Ever Wanted Is To Be Where You Are


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    CHRISTMAS WISH LIST

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    REVIEW: Egotistical Puckboy by Eden Finley & Saxon James

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    Puckboys: Egotistical Puckboy – Eden Finley & Saxon James

    EZRA

    Partying, dudes, and hockey. What more could a gay NHL player want?

    If it weren’t for Anton Hayes, my life would be perfect.

    Not that he affects my life in any way. At all. That would imply I care what the winger from Philly thinks of me.

    Which I don’t.

    Not even a one-night stand with him can thaw his misplaced animosity toward me.

    He says I’m the one with the ego, but he can talk. He rivals me for most egotistical puck boy in the league.

    I hate him as much as he hates me. Even if I crave a repeat.

    ANTON

    When it comes to hockey, I’m all about the game.

    I’ve worked for years to be one of the best in the league, and l’ve done it without splashing my orientation all over the tabloids.

    My hockey image is one I’ve carefully cultivated, and after one night with Ezra Palaszczuk, I risk it all.

    He’s cocky, obnoxious, and has an ego bigger than Massachusetts. And okay, maybe he’s the sexiest man I’ve ever known.

    We’ll never get along. Not when we sleep together. Not even when my possessive streak awakens.

    That doesn’t stop us from falling into bed together over and over again.


    Hockey romance is my most-read MM sports romance. I don’t know what it is about these hockey players that makes them so shippable. Being gorgeous specimens of humanity, I guess. I barely know anything about the sport. Mind you, I hate sports, but the way these hockey romances play out, I’m almost tempted to watch some games.

    Egotistical Puckboy by author duo, Eden Finley & Saxon James, is the opener of the new hockey series, Puckboys. It’s a spin-off of the authors’ CU Hockey series.

    Our egotistical puckboy is hockey royalty, Ezra Palaszczuk. He’s an openly gay troublemaking manwhore who never shuts up. Or so it seems. A closer look reveals a man who wants affection but fears rejection. As unlikely as it seems, he’s also an inspiration to aspiring queer athletes. Spend time with him, you’ll notice how he subtly goes out of his way to make people happy.

    Ez’s rival in the ice and in ego is top athlete Anton Hayes. Anton has a good boy image. He’s grateful for his privileged upbringing and he’s committed to giving back. Anton’s is so serious about it, he even has secret volunteer gigs nobody, not even his team, knows about.

    The man also likes control and has a possessive streak. He doesn’t like to share. He’s still partly in the closet, with only family and teammates knowing he’s gay. He doesn’t want his orientation made public because he doesn’t want to be defined by his sexuality.

    By all accounts, the two hated each other. Then one very drunk evening, Ezra was rescued by Anton from being beaten by angry fans. Feeling responsible, he takes Ezra into his apartment to sleep it off. The idiot took it upon himself to provoke his rescuer. The two ended with a hatefuck, and then continued hooking up, right until Anton was traded into Ezra’s team. And that’s when they start catching certain inescapable feelings.

    I like my enemies-to-lovers story to be intense. This one has the right level of intensity that makes this trope so delicious. I live for the snark and banter! The romance was executed brilliantly, the transition very organic and so very satisfying.

    Ezra, holy heck, the mouth on the guy! There were times when he was almost too much. Even during sex, he wouldn’t shut up. At some particularly exasperating statement, I even thought, man, that is such a boner killer.

    Anton has no problems matching Ez snark per snark. I enjoyed how he challenges the other man and keeps him on his toes. He saw through the ego and the bluster and recognized Ez’s vulnerability and innate goodness. And I loved how he accepts Ezra for who he is all the way.

    Ezra is mine.

    I groan at the thought.

    At doing what no one else has ever done.

    The thing is, I don’t want to rein him in. I don’t want to change him. He’s light. He’s attention. People are drawn to him and his larger-than-life personality. I want to wind him up and watch him fly, then be the safe place where he can land. The one he always comes back to.

    My favorite thing about these two is that they may trade in one-upmanship and sarcasm but when real issues come up, they take time to communicate properly. They talked about everything from the get-go, from how their hook-ups should go down, to going exclusive, to Ez’s family issues, to Anton’s coming out. Ez inspired Anton to embrace his truth. Attaboy!

    I struggled with a few other books but when I picked this up, I was riveted for hours. I was immediately drawn to the characters, even the supporting ones. I loved the Queer Collective! They’re a group of queer NHL players who banded together. Most of these guys are from the CU Hockey series.

    Rivals/enemies-to-lovers hockey romances always bring to mind that famously steamy rivalry between the cocky Russian and the polite Canadian. Happily, after a couple of chapters, comparisons to that other book faded. Egotistical Puckboy is sufficiently different to set itself apart. It’s fun, sweet, low-angst, and very swoony! It made me laugh and smile.

    Let these puckboys show you a good time too!

    Ratings:
    4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away

    Soundtrack: Catching Feelings
    Artist: Mathew V
    Album


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    REVIEW: Madison Square Murders by C.S. Poe

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    Memento Mori: Madison Square Murders – C.S. Poe

    Everett Larkin works for the Cold Case Squad: an elite—if understaffed and overworked—group of detectives who solve the forgotten deaths of New York City. Larkin is different from others, but his deduction skills are unmatched and his memory for minute details is unparalleled.

    So when a spring thunderstorm uproots a tree in Madison Square Park, unearthing a crate with human remains inside, the best Cold Case detective is assigned the job. And when a death mask, like those prominent during the Victorian era, is found with the body, Larkin requests assistance from the Forensic Artists Unit and receives it in the form of Detective Ira Doyle, his polar opposite in every way.

    Factual reasoning and facial reconstruction puts Larkin and Doyle on a trail of old homicide cases and a murderer obsessed with casting his victims’ likeness in death. Include some unapologetic flirting from Doyle, and this case just may end up killing Everett Larkin.


    Two things that always make me think of C.S. Poe are New York and neurodiverse detectives. Even before knowing she lives in the city, I always felt a distinct vibe with how she writes about NY. She has also created sleuths who have narcolepsy and color-blindness.

    Madison Square Murders is the first book of Memento Mori, a police procedural that introduces us to Detective Everett Larkin. Larkin has Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), a condition where his memory works like a Rolodex. It’s useful in investigations but a curse most of the time because he is doomed to recall past traumas in perfect detail.

    The story opens with a skeleton unearthed under an uprooted tree in Madison Square Park. A death mask was found with the remains. This brought Larkin to a forensic artist, Detective Ira Doyle.

    I was a bit hesitant to read this at first because I’m not too keen on reading a romance with the MC already in a relationship with another person, even if it’s a failing marriage. The author had partnered with Gregory Ashe in another series. I felt she took inspiration from some of his works by making Larkin already married and infusing the story with a hefty amount of angst and suffering.

    Larkin is a very compelling character. He took it upon himself to investigate the thousands of cold cases in NY because he wanted the victims to be remembered. He knows exactly how many cases are there.

    “Remembrance is the greatest act of love there is. Because… because no one is truly dead and gone, so long as someone remembers them.”

    The story is told from his 3rd-person POV. His cold and blunt personality was one of the main things that drove the story. I felt empathetic because I could relate to the mental struggles and the lone wolf-ism. I felt sorry for him most of the time. I don’t dislike him, but I couldn’t say I actively liked him either.

    Doyle is Larkin’s complete opposite. Friendly and very flirty, he always has a smile ready. And he’s way smarter than he lets on. He was so into Larkin from the get-go but took a step back when he realized the man was married. I liked how we see Doyle’s obvious attraction through Larkin’s aggressively objective perspective.

    Not much to say about the romance because it is barely a romance at this point. Rightly so, or it would have been outright cheating. They had a thing where Doyle calls Larkin ‘work husband’. It’s cute, but I couldn’t squee yet cuz Larkin has an actual husband.

    I liked how Larkin’s and Doyle’s abilities and personalities complemented each other, especially during the investigation. This book is very much about the mystery. It was super into the nitty-gritty of the police work that there was even a point where I tuned out. The amount of research for this must have been astounding. However, it grabbed me back into focus soon after a breakthrough. I was pretty much riveted after that. The story kept me in the dark right to the point Larkin realized who the killer was.

    Objectively speaking, Madison Square Murders is a strong start to a very promising mystery series. It is a very well-written story with solid police procedural and fully flesh-out characters in complicated relationships. The stellar GR ratings are a testament to that.

    Subjectively though, it’s difficult for me to write this review because I felt a nebulous meh-ness towards the book I’m struggling to articulate. It’s not the lack of romance because this one did a great job laying the groundwork for a future love story. I guess it’s pretty much how I feel about Larkin. Intense, emotional, compelling, intriguing, even magnetic, but not necessarily likable.

    Rating:
    3 Stars – not exactly setting my world on fire but I liked it

    Soundtrack: I Remember
    Artist: Deadmau5 & Kaskade
    Album: Random Album Title


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    REVIEW: Death Tells A Tale by Felice Stevens writing as A.P. Eisen

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    The Paul Monroe Mystery: Death Tells A Tale – Felice Stevens writing as A.P. Eisen

    Cliff Baxter is approached with a dream job, but it means time away from the man he loves and the family he’s only just reconciled with. When opportunity knocks twice and another unexpected offer comes his way, he and Paul make a decision neither dreamed possible, changing their lives forever.

    Paul Monroe has everything he’s ever wanted—the man he loves, the respect of his coworkers…everything except the answer to his first murder investigation, the only case he’s never been able to solve.

    Who killed Ginny Sweeten?

    Follow along with Paul and his partner, Rob, as they wade through years-old evidence and piece together Thornwood Park’s most notorious cold case, leading to its startling and unexpected conclusion.


    After dropping that cliffhanger in Book 3, Death Comes To Main Street, A.P. Eisen, also known as Felice Steven, delivers the much-awaited 4th installment, Death Tells A Tale. This is, sadly, also the finale of the gritty but cozy police procedural, The Paul Monroe Mysteries.

    It’s common for mystery series to have the detective face their greatest nemesis at the latter point. Paul and his detective partner, Rob, went back to their very first case upon learning the bastard they had put behind bars was out.

    Both were still green when they worked on Ginny Sweeten’s murder case. With sloppy forensic work done by lazy forensic officials, they barely got a conviction if not for a strand of hair. Now, they needed something more conclusive or else be dinged by technicalities.

    Their investigation opened wounds that never truly healed. Paul and Rob met with the grief-stricken father, the uncaring mother, various schoolmates, and some nasty people. The villain was a piece of work who had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The bastard managed to form a cult fresh out of prison. He’s a lazy asshole who uses his good looks and considerable charm to con women into doing his bidding.

    The plot is similar to the 3rd book in that the criminal is already known. It’s a matter of proving it. I liked how the plot was executed. It struck a good balance between giving detailed accounts of the investigation and Paul and Cliff’s personal life.

    The mystery was pretty complex and challenging. It went through each step of the investigation while keeping me in the dark until the aha moment. You can feel the stress and frustration as the detectives combed through the old evidence, retracing their steps and trying to find anything they might have missed. I was thoroughly invested in the results because I hated the bad guy.

    However, I echo some issues pointed out by other reviewers. I did find this installment the least intense. The pacing felt a tad slower. There were moments when I was just there for the ride. The resolution of the case also felt unsatisfying. I have commended the series for avoiding grand heroics, yet I couldn’t help wanting a more impactful resolution this time. Especially with the kind of villain it has. Even the conflict regarding Cliff’s job came across as dry. While it mirrors very real career woes, it just doesn’t make for a riveting read.

    Apart from the good mystery, another of the thing that kept me going was my love for the characters. Paul and Cliff had come a long way, and they’re firmly heading for that HEA. They’re proof that you don’t need big fights or miscommunications to make the romance exciting. I loved how happy and healthy their relationship was. And that it also feels real and relatable. This is what makes this noirish series cozy.

    Paul in particular, had grown so much. From a deeply closeted cop to somebody who is infinitely more comfortable in his own skin. And an awesome boyfriend to boot!

    Cliff has always been amazing from the start. He’s a well-respected, uber-competent hotel manager. He handled Paul’s coming to terms with his sexuality in the most-level headed, most understanding and most patient way possible. They’re one of my favorite out-for-you stories.

    Death Tells A Tale wraps up a very enjoyable mystery series. It brings the detectives full circle while inspiring the boyfriends to take the leap forward. There might be some mixed feels and pacing issues, but overall, it’s still quite a tale to tell.

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: Love Is Stronger Than Death
    Artist: Christian Hovda (orig. The The)
    Album

    P.S.

    Follow Paul as he finds himself with Cliff, stumbles upon dead bodies, catch bad guys and work towards an HEA with his guy in The Paul Monroe Mysteries. The books should be read in order. Check out my review of the first three books below:

    Couldn’t Cheat Death by A.P. Eisen
    Diagnosis: Death by A.P. Eisen
    Death Comes To Main Street by A.P. Eisen


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    REVIEW: A Touch Of Fever by Nazri Noor

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    Arcane Hearts: A Touch Of Fever – Nazri Noor

    What do you do when you can’t cast spells? You make your own magic.

    Jackson Pryde was never great at wielding magic. Instead, he works as an artificer, crafting enchanted devices in the Black Market, a shadowy bazaar of wonders. But Xander Wright, the mouthy, pretentious mage next door, hates all the hammering in Jackson’s workshop.

    When a chance assignment forces them to team up, they discover a terrifying predicament. Something is driving members of the magical community into murderous rages. Jackson and Xander must combine might and magic to find the source of the Fever and stop it. Can they put aside their differences long enough to end the Fever, or will they succumb to its bloodthirsty curse?

    A Touch of Fever is a 73,000-word M/M urban fantasy romance with a HFN ending. Join a fast-talking artificer and a snarky sorcerer, best friends turned bitter enemies, as they navigate an adventure filled with strange flora, mythical fauna, and magical murders. If you like your urban fantasy with humor, horror, and a whole lot of heart, you’ve come to the right place. Experience A Touch of Fever today.


    A Touch Of Fever is an urban fantasy adventure that reads like a shounen anime with a shounen-ai romance. It is the first book of the Arcane Hearts series and my first book by Nazri Noor. I’m guessing, this is connected to the author’s other urban fantasy works.

    Our hero is Jackson Pryde, last of the Pryde family of artificers. He lives in the Black Market, a magical mercantile city in a pocket dimension of sorts that has portals to different places around the world. It’s one bustling bazaar after another, a mish-mash of cultures and creatures where every conceivable item can be bought for a price. It is dominated by various guilds.

    After an incident that blew up their labs and killed almost all artificers, the guild and the craft were deemed pretty much defunct. As a result, Jackson’s life is an everyday hustle to put food on the table. These frequently involved selling and bartering prized items he foraged or embarking on quests to retrieve one.

    One day he was requested to retrieve a rare flower, with the condition that he work with a partner. This turned out to be Xander Wright, frenemy, neighbor, and the magical boy of his dreams. The two lived to annoy the heck out of each other. Dorks!

    Like many shounen anime heroes, Jackson is cocky and brash. He has no false modesty about his looks and loves to flex his muscles just to get a rise out of Xander. He’s also insecure about not having much magic in him.

    Artificers use artifacts to amplify the little magic they have inside them. Jackson has been working for years to create a gauntlet that actually works. He carries the thing around in his backpack, testing it whenever the opportunity arises. It’s his ticket to bringing in gold and bringing back glory to artificers.

    Xander is from an elite family of mages and went to an ultra-elite school for magic. He and Jackson were childhood friends who grew apart and became antagonistic. His hobby was to file noise complaints against his artificer neighbor.

    Xander’s life is the opposite of Jackson’s. He hasn’t seen much of the world, just going about studying magic and not much else. The quest with Jackson might be the first time he stepped out of the Black Market. Naive he might be, Xander is also a highly-trained, walking, talking arsenal of deadly weapons.

    The story is written in Jackson’s 1st person POV. Our boy is quite the talker, building a detailed picture of the Black Market and the Arcane Hearts world through smart-ass comments and various asides. If you love world-building that goes down to the nitty-gritty, you’ll liked this.

    It’s a wordy book to read on paper. I do feel I wouldn’t have finished it if not for Zachary Johnson’s energetic narration. He was the perfect audiobook narrator for the series. His voices and characterizations were fabulously on point!

    I only noted the wordiness because I am a lazy reader who has no patience with details. The writing was able to keep the mood lively and the momentum consistently moving even through the denser prose. It struck a good balance between action, humor, magic, and romance.

    The main thing that kept me hooked was how the author deftly weaved together a grand adventure filled with action and magic while building up the delicious anticipation between two frenemies with very obvious USTs.

    This was wonderfully demonstrated during Jackson and Xander’s quest, where they snapped and sniped, battled a very angry sylph, and were forced to acknowledge a truce or else. They would have ended up acknowledging so much more if not for a griffin with very bad timing.

    The quest is actually just part of a wider plot. The titular fever is the big mystery that runs in the background. It is mostly heard via secondhand news as the cause of various death. It wasn’t until another neighbor spontaneously combusted that Jackson and Xander took an active part in the investigation.

    The cast is fantastic! Jackson’s friends, the talented Beatrice, the gentle giant Paxton, and the majestic griffin Zephyr, all had colorful personalities that made their interactions hilarious.

    I loved the fight scenes! They’re always an adrenaline-pumping mix of death-defying stunts and spectacular displays of high-level magic. I especially liked that we get high-octane action and magic from the get-go. No boring training tropes here!

    All in all, A Touch of Fever is a super fun action-adventure with winsome heroes to root for. It was great to listen to on audio, and it would be even more amazing to see on screen.

    Rating:
    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

    Soundtrack: Fever Dreams
    Artist: Diveo feat. Taylor Fernandez
    Album:


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    REVIEW: Never Stay Gone by Tal Bauer

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    Big Bend Texas Rangers: Never Stay Gone – Tal Bauer

    Six bodies in a single grave… in the same West Texas country where Dakota left everything behind.

    Every beat of my heart belongs to you.

    Thirteen years ago, Dakota Jennings thought he’d found his forever when he fell in love with Shane Carson. But one afternoon shattered their love story, and both Dakota and Shane left Rustler, Texas, with broken hearts. Even now, Dakota is still feeling the agony of losing Shane. Sure, he’s a Texas Ranger, but that’s not how he wanted to live his life. All he ever wanted was to love Shane.

    Loving you is the only time I feel alive.

    Shane’s life was supposed to be different than this. There’d been a plan, ever since he was knee-high to his father. But falling for Dakota spun Shane’s world upside down, and for years, Shane has had nothing but the memories of all that he lost: Dakota’s gentle touch, and the sweetness of his lips, and the star-strewn nights they spent wrapped in each other’s arms.

    West of the Pecos, there is no law.

    When the Rangers get the call about six bodies being pulled out of a mass grave in West Texas, the governor sends Dakota to run the investigation. Dakota heads back to his hometown and comes face-to-face with the last man he ever expected to see again: only now, he’s Deputy Shane Carson… Dakota’s local partner assigned to the case.

    There’s nothing Dakota wants more than a second chance with Shane, but so much is stacked against them: six corpses, a murderer on the loose, and history that refuses to stay buried. And the bodies keep piling up as Dakota and Shane try to run the killer down across the West Texas plains.

    In a moment, everything changes: the hunters become the hunted, the past fractures, and all Dakota thought he knew comes tumbling down. Secrets break wide open as Dakota remembers–

    This is West Texas, and out here, nothing is as it seems.

    Big Bend County is a place of beauty and desolation, of secrets and small towns. Where the past and the present collide, and where nothing stays hidden forever.

    This MM romantic suspense is the first in the new Big Bend Texas Rangers series. Come along for the West Texas sunsets, the heart-pounding thrills, and the hard-won Happy Ever Afters.


    Never Stay Gone is the first book of the romantic suspense, police procedural series, Big Bend Texas Rangers. The Texas Rangers are the badass officers who patrol the West Texas desert areas up to the border.

    The story opens with Deputy Sheriff Shane Carson stumbling upon a grave of six women in various stages of decomposition. With talks of a serial killer being bandied about, the Texas governor tasks ex-military Texas Ranger and, also her personal guard, Dakota Jennings to investigate.

    Shane and Dakota were friends turned secret boyfriends back in high school. Shane broke things off because of pressure from his over-bearing dad just when Dakota was about to tell him of his plans after they graduated. With his world crashing down around him, Dakota disappeared. After 13 years, he’s back in Big Bend, a changed man but somehow still in love with the same boy.

    This book has all the hallmarks of what I have come to recognize as the Tal Bauer style. There’s the thrilling suspense, the twisty-turny plot, people in high places with the dirtiest secrets, the swoony second chance romance, the mysterious pivotal event the characters agonize over but would turn out to be different from what their internal monologue seem to convey. Let’s not forget the amazing John Solo emoting the heck out of everything.

    I loved how it was done in The Murder Between Us and The Night Of. Both of these were rated 5 stars. Here, it took me a while to get into the story. The opening chapters weren’t hooking me as much as I wanted them to. Descriptions of landscapes tend to make my eyes gloss over from boredom. I was propelled by John Solo’s performance. I’m glad I stuck around because things picked up once the investigation started.

    Drama was on an all-time high, with many highly emotional scenes. And when the tears came, they kept on coming. This is quite possibly, the weepiest MM romance I’ve ever read! Waterworks from manly men could be deeply moving but very annoying when they start bawling at every other scene. Shane, in particular, was very weepy. The guy had it rough but jeez!

    Shane was the golden boy, the quarterback, and his dad’s only hope of reclaiming the family legacy. He lived under his father’s thumb, his entire life already planned out by the older man. His only act of rebellion was his relationship with Dakota.

    After his football career fizzled out, Shane worked as the deputy sheriff. This is where he is at his best. He’s a bit green when it comes to murder investigations, but he knows how to connect with people. He’s always ready to share a kind word.

    Dakota was the cowboy son of drifters Shane befriended during high school football tryouts. Since then, the two were inseparable, mutually pining after one another until Shane struck up the courage to make a move.

    If there was ever one guy made to be a book boyfriend, Dakota’s your man. He was completely devoted to Shane then, he’s still devoted now. Even as a teenager, he planned his whole life on how to support Shane’s dream of becoming a pro football player. As an adult, he built a house for his man. With his own hands.

    I’ll never forget that flashback to their last day in senior year where he presented his meager budget for his and Shane’s living expenses, a.k.a. his heart on a plate, with all the earnestness of a youth in love, only to have it handed back. It was one of the most heartbreaking scenes ever! The sensation of falling and shattering to pieces was palpable. My chest hurt for Dakota. I nearly started sobbing myself.

    The reconciliation scene? Hooboy, people were flayed raw! That’s how intense it was. I was glad the book is written in 3rd person dual POV. The emotional impact of a 1st person POV would have been too much.

    I was super happy they grabbed that second chance and made the most of it. But then I got paranoid that the author might pull another plot twist and pull the rug out from everyone’s feet. This was still halfway through the book and I don’t think I could bear any more relationship drama.

    I got so anxious about it I stopped reading. It wasn’t until I read a review saying things went well for the couple after that reunion that I breathed a sigh of relief and picked it up again. The rest of the story focused on the mystery.

    I’d like to say the mystery was predictable. In hindsight, it followed the usual pattern of the author. But I was the gullible fool who fell for the red herring, suspecting the loner who was actually going above and beyond his duty. So good job on that nice bit of redirection!

    When I thought about it, Never Stay Gone is written like Shane and Dakota’s favorite country songs. Full of lonely cowboys, small-town life, first kisses, devastating heartbreaks, and sappy love declarations that make you cringe and make you smile too. This is truly a book that doesn’t pull its emotional punches. They hit you, hard, straight in the kokoro. It’s not my favorite, but it will stay with me for a long time.

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: Lost & Found
    Artist: The Midnight
    Album: Lost & Found

    P.S.

    This book comes with an official soundtrack. Check out the songs from the CD Dakota gave to Shane. Because he’s dorky like that.


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