Secret Admirer – D.J. Jamison
You deserve all the kisses you want …
I want you to know how amazing you are. You won’t believe me, because I’m just your brother’s best friend, but it’s true. Each day my feelings for you grow, confusing but undeniable.
With a few anonymous love tokens, I finally have an outlet for all the things I can’t say. And with each gift and note, you smile. For me. Not your brother’s straight friend, but something new. Something more. Something that will change everything if we can both find the courage to believe.
All I have to do is confess who I really am:
Your Secret Admirer
Secret Admirer is a super cute, feel-good offering from D.J. Jamison. She’s one of the more enjoyable MM romance authors out there. I said this about her before, she can make me read and like pure contemporary romance, a genre I typically struggle with.
This is an opposites attract, nerd + frat boy, brother’s bestfriend romance. It’s not really breaking new grounds but it makes up for it by all the adorkable moments.
First off, I really liked that the identity of the secret admirer was known to the reader right off the bat. I don’t have to drive myself crazy trying to figure it out. This is dual POV.
Benji is out and proud. He’s been secretly crushing on Ace, the best friend of his older brother, Jeremy, since forever. He knows it’s hopeless because the guy is straight. Ace has always been kind to him. Now that he is in college, Ace looks out for him on behalf of Jeremy. Ace treats him like a lil’ brother. Or so Benji thought.
Normally, I’m all over the shy, nerdy types and I was so ready to love Benji. But as the story progressed, his insecurities got the better of him. He gradually lost his charm.
Ace was the better guy here for being genuinely nice, caring, sweet and selfless. He had to reflect on his attraction to Benji a bit, especially in relation to his bi-curiosity and his best friend who might not think too highly about Ace hooking up with his baby brother. Eventually, he became honest with himself and took a chance to see where his feelings would lead.
There is the spectre of Jeremy hanging over most of the story with the guys holding off from telling him. He made his grand entrance, surprising both Ace and Benji. Then it tapered off to a blessedly drama-free but yeah, also anti-climatic, ending.
Secret Admirer falls somewhere between like and love. While there were many scenes that gave me warm fuzzies, these were mostly because of Ace’s efforts. The Benji issue could be a ME thing because many other GR reviewers were okay with him. I could still say the romance developed nicely despite Benji not appealing to me as a character. The story is low-angst and humorous, ideal for days when you’re in the mood for light, fluffy college boys shenanigans.
Posts on D.J. Jamison’s works here.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
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Magic & Steam: The Engineer – C.S. Poe
1881—Special Agent Gillian Hamilton is a magic caster with the Federal Bureau of Magic and Steam. He’s sent to Shallow Grave, Arizona, to arrest a madman engineer known as Tinkerer, who’s responsible for blowing up half of Baltimore. Gillian has handled some of the worst criminals in the Bureau’s history, so this assignment shouldn’t be a problem. But even he’s taken aback by a run-in with the country’s most infamous outlaw, Gunner the Deadly.
Gunner is also stalking Shallow Grave in search of Tinkerer, who will stop at nothing to take control of the town’s silver mines. Neither Gillian nor Gunner are willing to let Tinkerer hurt more innocent people, so they agree to a very temporary partnership.
If facing illegal magic, Gatling gun contraptions, and a wild engineer in America’s frontier wasn’t enough trouble for a city boy, Gillian must also come to terms with the reality that he’s rather fond of his partner. But even if they live through this adventure, Gillian fears there’s no chance for love between a special agent and outlaw.
Based on the short story, “Gunner the Deadly.” Entirely revised, newly expanded, and Book One in the exciting new steampunk series, Magic & Steam.
The Engineer is the explosive opener to the steampunk-tastic series, Magic & Steam. It’s has all the whiz! boom! bang! you could ever ask for.
Gillian is a special agent from the Federal Bureau of Magic & Steam assigned to arrest the Tinkerer, a wanted engineer responsible for a lot of death and destruction. In the midst of gunfire, he crashes into the notorious outlaw, Gunner the Deadly. Learning that Gunner was also after the Tinkerer, he grudgingly agrees to work together.
Gillian is an experienced magic caster so right off the bat, we get high level displays of magic. This is something I always take a lot of pleasure in. I’m usually bored with beginner magic so having a professional caster means not having to deal with the tiresome training trope. And boy oh boy, Gillian certainly didn’t hold back on his elemental magic! I wish we could see this on-screen.
Gunner was no slouch either. With Gillian’s help, his weapon was powered up by ether magic, allowing him to blast through heavy machinery. He saved their assess many times.
The Tinkerer was a crazed evil genius armed with fantastical weapons of mass destruction. At first glance, it seems he blows things up willy nilly. Later on, a surprising twist revealed a method to this madness and a tumultuous history with another character.
The plot covers the couple of days Gillian and Gunner were running after the Tinkerer. Info was dumped here and there explaining the workings of magic and machinery, like Gunner’s weapon, as well as the world in general. Most of it went over my head but I did grasp the gist. There’s natural magic, made by a caster, and the artificial(?) magic made by machines. The latter was dangerous and illegal.
Alongside this grand adventure run tentative steps to forge a sweeter kind of connection. The way it was built up, showing Gunnar’s gentler, caring side and Gillian being irresistibly drawn to these nuances in Gunnar’s personality, I was completely sold on their overnight romance. As much as I loved HEA, I’m glad the story didn’t push for that, instead ending with a promise of a New Year’s eve.
This is an expanded short story of around 84 pages so it moves at break-neck speed. But even with that kind of pace, it was a well-realized world of Gatling guns, mechanical spiders, massive tanks, and attack airships. Recommended if you up for a romp in the Wild, Wild West with mysterious outlaws, maniacal engineers and badge-carrying virgin heroes welding lightning bolts.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
Posts on C.S. Poe’s works here.
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The Kings: Wild Cards: Stacking the Deck – Charlie Cochet
Ex-Special Forces Communications Sergeant Jacopo “Jack” Constantino knows a thing or two about communications technology. As head of Cyber Security at Four Kings Security, Jack spends his days working with high-tech systems. Life for Jack is pretty uneventful—despite working with his brothers-in-arms—and he finds himself longing for a little excitement.
Be careful what you wish for.
Two years ago, Fitz Harlow captured Jack’s heart and walked away with it. Now he’s back.
Fitz spent the last two years picking up the pieces of his life after a disastrous end to a ten-year relationship. After much therapy, and ice cream, Fitz leaves the fashion world behind and returns home to St. Augustine to open his own high-end salon, Hair Comes Trouble. Two years later, Fitz finally has the quiet, peaceful life he’s wanted for so long. There’s only one thing missing, or rather, one man missing, but Fitz has his doubts. With Jack, he’s not just gaining a boyfriend, he’s gaining a boyfriend, his family of mischief-magnet ex-Green Berets, and one highly opinionated Belgian Malinois.
Fitz and Jack discover their connection has only grown stronger over time, thanks in part to meddling friends, but just as they start to pick up where they left off, someone takes objection to their reunion. Danger hides in the shadows, a stalker determined to keep Fitz out of Jack’s life, no matter the cost. With the odds stacked against them, can Jack and Fitz win a battle against an unknown enemy, or will Jack lose Fitz forever?
The Kings: Wild Cards series is a spin-off of the Four Kings Security series.
I know Charlie Cochet writes great humor (witness The Prince and His Bedeviled Bodyguard) but Stacking The Deck had me LOLing. Scenes from the book even started popping in my head the next day. I was chuckling to myself while working. These guys are crazy!
The Kings here refer to King, Ace, Red and Lucky who co-own the Four Kings Security company along with Jack and his best friend, Sacha a.k.a Joker. All of them are ex-military. The Kings have their own books and I’m pretty sure Joker is going to get one.
Our hero of the moment is Jack, head of the cybersecurity department. He’s super smart, sweet and nerdy. He’s a Macguyver who can fix anything from broken fridges to military parachutes but can’t cook to save his life. Not even toast because him and kitchen appliances don’t get along.
Fitz was a runway hairstylist who got tired of the limelight. He’s been together with his former boyfriend for 10 years until he caught him cheating. He needed a fresh start. Fitz is first to admit he’s high maintenance. He’s wary of relationships because of his cheating ex.
He and Jack had an brief but unforgettable history together where Jack saved his life. This probably happened in the other books. The attraction was strong but Fitz wasn’t in the right headspace yet to start a new relationship. So he ghosted Jack.
Fast forward present day, Fitz is now in a better place, running a successful salon. Jack receives a text from him about a hair appointment and promptly got distracted from monitoring Joker and the guys on the job. He got razzed about it because Fitz texted all of them
Despite all the USTs exploding all over the place, the romance was a slow-burn. Trust had to be gained and the two danced around their feelings. Everybody did their best to help them along because they knew these two dorks are a forgone conclusion.
I loved how the book didn’t hold back on the fluff. There’s this really squee-tastic scene where Fitz was drugged and Jack had to keep him awake on the way to the hospital. Fitz basically confessed everything while Jack in his best gentlemanly self, tried not to take advantage of Fitz in his present condition. The next day, Laz, Fitz’s bestfriend told him all about it. Then he finds Jack in his kitchen where he burns the toast.
Jack is adorbs! His brain short-circuited when he realized he fell in love and had to be talked through it by Joker. Joker his wild, dog-loving, hates being called by his real name, “I’m never falling in love” best friend was suddenly the voice of reason. What is the world coming to?
Also, famous last words, Sacha.
This is a book about friendship and camaraderie. The author really did a great job with her characters because I remember all of them. King is the alpha and their big brother. His boyfriend is Leo, the best hacker of them all. Red’s a former military doctor. He’s a great cook. His boyfriend is Laz, a fashion photographer. Ace, purveyor of all mischief, is about to be married to his billionaire fiance, Colton. Colton is friends with Laz and Fitz. Lucky is a Latinx whose boyfriend is Mason, a former detective.
The guys are awesome but the star of the show is Chip, Joker’s military dog. Everybody loves Chip.
I appreciated that the author really made the effort to get all her well-loved characters in the picture so readers who want to check in on their favorites get a treat. There were a lot of cute scenes that were mostly there for cuteness sake, all designed to reduce you into a warm puddle of goo. The writing is so thorough in providing every detail, it’s like she anticipated all our questions. It gave all the information we need, giving hints to potential love interests because 99% of the male characters are queer
The thing with this, however, is that it’s easy to guess who the good guys are and who’s not. If their eye color is mentioned, it’s probably either they have a book or will get one in the future. The faceless ones are usually up to no good which makes the mystery weaker. Understandable, since it comes as third priority to the romance and the group dynamics.
While totally consumable as a standalone, Stacking the Deck is best experienced by reading Four Kings Security first. I have not read the main series yet and nearly got lost on the who’s who at the first parts because this had a huge cast. Not only you meet all the ex-Green Berets and their boyfriends, there’s also the other supporting characters that make their appearances here and there. There were a lot of inside jokes and references to hilarious past events that had me itching to start on the other series.
All in all, this spin-off is off to a rocking start! Recommended if you’re up for some fantastic, fan-servicey, escapist fun.
Review of The Prince and His Bedeviled Bodyguard here
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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I’m a huge fan of Kim Fielding‘s fantastic paranormal series, Bureau. I have been following this since Corruption, Tenrael and Grimes’s story. This series has become better and better with each installment.
This is a review of Chained and Convicted, volume 2 of the series. Both novellas featured creatures shackled and chained, one through captivity and the other through culpability.
Bureau: Chained – Kim Fielding
An agent for the Bureau of Trans-Species Affairs? That’s the best job in the world. And it’s enough for Terry Brandt, who doesn’t need personal relationships complicating his life. His newest assignment puts him undercover, investigating a Hollywood agent who may have some evil tricks up his sleeve.
Edge is not the man he appears to be. Although he’s a member of the Hollywood agent’s security staff, his true situation is darker and deeper than that. Ordered to seduce the new prospect, Edge finds himself caught in conflicting loyalties.
Haunted by their pasts and tied up in secrets, neither Terry nor Edge can afford to allow passion to interfere with duty. And with danger dogging them, it’s impossible to envision a future together.
Chained is a shifter story that made me want to hug my dogs.
Terry Brandt is a music-loving Bureau agent assigned to investigate Hollywood’s most powerful agent, Whitaker, rumored to be offering fame and fortune in exchange for something sinister. He goes undercover as a wannabe actor. He was asked to move in to the agent’s mansion as part of the test to see if he has what it takes. There he meets Edge, the man assigned to guard him.
Edge and his two brothers are dog shifters bought by Whitaker, their boss, when they were pups. They served as security in the mansion. They used to be four but their other brother was put down when he refused to behave.
My heart went out to Edge. He and his brothers were treated like dogs. They live in a kennel modified to accommodate their human form. But he’s the one their boss treated the worst. Not only is he beaten at the slightest mistakes, he is forced to seduce the potential actors as part of their owner’s tactics to sink his hooks deeper into them. He was ordered to do just that to Terry.
All the dog shifter brothers were obedient but Edge is different. His boss loved pointing out that he is weak. Compared to his brothers, Edge wanted more but knew he couldn’t. He’s too well-trained for that. He’s loyal to his owner even if Terry is making him feel unexpected things. The most heartbreaking scene was when Terry urged him to run away after all the abuse. He refused. “I’m a good dog!” (╥﹏╥)
The story is set in 1989. There are mentions of HIV. I enjoyed all the musical name-dropping of Terry’s favorite 80s bands. He introduced Edge to the joys of music and I adored Terry for that. He faced monsters but still loves his job. He also kept his sunny, talkative disposition. He’s a good foil to Edge’s strong, silent type.
I loved how Terry treated Edge kindly right from the start. Edge immediately noticed he was different from the other wannabes. Terry didn’t treat him and his brothers in dog or human form as part of the furniture. He acknowledged their presence and talked to them even if he still didn’t know what they actually were.
The book succeeded in portraying the seediness of the unseen side of Hollywood. We get dual POVs. What I like about the writing is that even if I know what’s going on from Edge’s perspective, I could still feel a sense of the unknown as experienced through Terry’s POV where he knew something is wrong but couldn’t quite put his finger on it. This was what made the twists effective.
Terry’s investigation came to a head when he was offered the job in exchange for the most valuable thing he owns. The climax was a suspenseful chaos of fangs, blood and bullets. I gave a little cheer when the brothers finally took action. There’s a lovely ending and epilogue where Townsend, the Bureau chief explained the magical mechanics of things to the guys. I’m happy that Terry was able to keep doing what he loved. Now he can do that with Edge.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
Bureau: Convicted – Kim Fielding
Vietnam veteran Kurt Powell’s addiction almost cost him everything, but a job as federal agent with the Bureau of Trans-Species Affairs helped him find sobriety and purpose. Now he tracks down dangerous paranormal creatures as well as humans who abuse their magical powers in illegal ways.
Sent from Belfast to the United States as a boy, Desmond Hughes later fell into a disastrous relationship that led to horrific murders. He’s spent seventeen years in a bleak prison with few comforts and no hope of release.
A new mission throws Kurt and Des together in a desperate attempt to prevent disaster. Sometimes what’s long been lost can still be found, but the road to redemption is never easy—and a mutual attraction may not ease the way.
Convicted is a moving journey towards redemption, forgiveness and freedom.
Desmond Hughes has been incarcerated in the Bureau prison for 17 years. He, along with his lover, Larry Crane, was responsible for the deaths of many people. Crane masterminded the crime, using magical boxes as source of power to wreck destruction. Crane is dead and these deadly boxes are now missing.
Kurt Powell is the agent assigned to find the boxes. He interviews Des who gives him all the places he and Crane stayed. Later on, he takes Des with him to find the boxes with the condition that Des returns to prison after they do. Their quest took them all over the American heartland moving towards Florida, stopping at the places Des had named.
The book is set in the 1993. The sense of time was not as strongly delivered as the other stories. There are nods to the time period, mentions of HIV and racism especially towards Kurt who had a mixed parentage.
Unlike the other Bureau novellas, Convicted has human + human pairing. I liked this just a tad less than Chained but not because it’s not as well written. This is due more to my disinterest towards stories involving road trips and looking for lost things. So I did feel the drag just a bit but the story picked up when they found one of the boxes.
There is less focus on the paranormal here. It’s very character-driven. Both men are burdened with guilt. They have the deaths of multiple people in their hands. One as a soldier, the other as an accomplice to a psychopath.
Des won me over with his spirit. He’s so lonely he talks to himself but I didn’t sense defeat. It’s more like he’s accepted his fate and tried to make do with what he is given. I also didn’t expect him to be the talkative type. The first parts of the book showed him alone. Then he had his first conversation with Kurt and his bright personality really shone through. As Kurt puts it, he has the voice of a born story teller. He’s a big guy with a gentle and kind soul that Crane took advantage of, using and abusing him as part of his schemes. I think Des truly believed Crane meant to change the world for the better with those boxes.
Kurt had his own share of troubles. He’s a Vietnam veteran who dealt with alcohol addiction. In his low moments, he was recruited by Townsend who believed in his potential. Kurt has a son and is friends with his ex-wife. I really liked that Kurt looked beyond the orange uniform and saw Des for what he truly is. He also made him understand that there is always a choice. And that he could forgive himself and move on.
Towards the end, the paranormal elements come into play in a show of magic and double crossing. Kurt suffers the same equally suspenseful fate as Terry. Townsend once again makes an appearance with his words of wisdom and second chances. Then Des showing up on Kurt’s doorstep all earnest and yearning is beyond endearing. Let’s give the man a hug!
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Bureau has always been a series with a lot of heart. Very much present in the stories are the small unexpected kindnesses that go a long way and reach deep places in the hearts of the tormented. Most of the time, the characters don’t even realize the impact of what they’re doing. Like Kurt offhandedly mentioning he would ask for more books for Des who had to make do with a measly 5-book ration. These touches of humanity are what makes this series.
I enjoyed the references to and cameos of well-loved couples from the other stories. West Coast Bureau chief Townsend is always present in all of them and he’s the biggest mystery of all. According to Edge, he smells human and something else. He often pops up in unexpected places to move things along. And I swear, his secret hobby is matchmaking because he really knows how to pair up these guys.
I highly recommend Chained and Convicted as well as the Bureau series as a whole. This is a series that will make you FEEL for ugly, tormented monsters. And no one does ugly, tormented monsters like Kim Fielding.
Posts on Kim Fieldings works here.
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Four Mercenaries: Their Bounty – K.A. Merikan
— Taken. Prized. Possessed. Loved. —
Clover is an orphan and has led a tough and chaotic life. No stability. No money. No friends. He trusts no one.
His already miserable life takes a nosedive when he ends up in the hands of a human trafficking gang. Someone has placed a request for a young albino man, and Clover is to become the property of a mysterious buyer who will stop at nothing to satisfy their depraved desire. Clover’s fate seems sealed until four bounty hunters appear to take out his captors and accidentally save him.
The four mercenaries want to move on, but when Clover pleads for protection, they offer it to him at a price. In the beginning, the arrangement is all kinds of shady, but as he gets to know the four men who’ve taken him on a wild ride, his developing feelings might become as dangerous as the elusive buyer.
But can a relationship with four such different men even work? Men who kill for a living? Men so full of contradictions?
Tank. The massive ex-soldier eager to be Clover’s Daddy.
Pyro. Wild, tattooed, with a filthy mouth and an itch for violence.
Boar. Ginger, bearded, a big teddy bear who can turn into a grizzly.
Drake. Dark and dangerous, with a tongue as sharp as his knives.
Can these men provide him with the love and security he craves? Or has Clover made the worst mistake of his life?
THEIR BOUNTY is a dark gay harem contemporary romance, book 1 in the “Four Mercenaries” trilogy. The story contains scenes of explicit violence, offensive language, morally ambiguous characters and lots of scorching hot, emotional, explicit scenes.
Themes: abduction, polyamory, mercenaries, bounty hunters, albinism, commitment issues, indecent proposal, dark past, male bonding, human trafficking, size difference, enemies to lovers, danger, alpha male, found family, size difference, distrust, shared, victim and protector
I picked up Their Bounty after reading Our King, Our Master, another poly series that had interesting characters but poor execution. I’m neutral on poly but I wanted to see better examples of how this particular trope can be done.
The four mercenaries are a brotherhood of former soldiers who take on jobs that bring down the bad guys while bringing in the money. On one of their jobs, they stumbled upon a 19-year old orphaned albino kid chained up to be sold to a mysterious buyer.
The kid, Clover, was part of a pick pocket gang ran by a local criminal. He was getting too old and too conspicuous given his unusual looks. Aware that he is a wanted man with no defenses, Clover pretends he has friends waiting for him in New York and negotiates his safe passage to the city in exchange for the men using him while they escort him on their roadtrip.
The leader of the group was Tank, a huge man whom Clover immediately tagged as his Daddy. He’s level-headed and he’s no fool. He knew what kind game Clover was playing but he felt protective of the kid. Tank’s alright but I don’t really go for Daddy kink.
Boar and Pyro are a couple very much in love but sexually incompatible. Boar is a hearts and flowers kind of teddy bear while Pyro is a blue-haired punk with ink and fast bike. Together, they found Clover to be the missing link in their relationship.
Everyone was quite smittened with their new boy. All except Drake. So of course he’s my favorite. I have huge respects for people who are not easily swayed by a pretty face and Drake was the only one who was unimpressed by their new plaything. He kept his distance. He was the only one in their group who thought they should stop spoiling Clover and teach him practical skills. Like self-defense especially with bad guys coming after him.
Drake was the main reason I stuck around. There was something about him, something smoldering behind his frosty exterior. He was the most nuanced of all the characters and therefore the most compelling. He talked some sense into Clover and in doing so revealed deeper hurts he rarely showed his brothers. He was definitely worth winning over especially when the ice did melt bit by bit. He wouldn’t admit it, but I bet he’s Clover’s favorite too.
I really liked how the authors made all of them stand out. It was tricky to find a nice balance between five MCs where each can shine individually and with their love interests. The authors succeeded in doing just that. The men each gave something to Clover who, in turn, gave them what was missing in their lives. It’s what made their 5-person romance work. They were like different puzzle pieces forming a cohesive whole
An oversight by the mercs came back to bite their asses and poor Clover was captured again. Clover was thrown into the very sinister world of human menageries and most definitely not the fun kind. Will he ever see his men again?
Unlike the other poly series where meeting a new character is just prelude to sex, the book had a solid story line that was pulled off well. Even if it was only secondary to the relationship development and group dynamics, the mystery + action-suspense part carried enough weight that added a lot of excitement to the overall plot. I liked how that twist came out of nowhere and threw me for a loop.
Their Bounty falls somewhere between like and love. I had a great time with it but some aspects were not my cup of tea. And TBH, Drake was all I cared about although I liked the other guys just fine. Clover was the one I’m least drawn to. He tended to act like a spoiled brat. And really, for a street kid, I expected better survival skills other than offering sexual favors.
Please do heed the warnings. The book touches upon human trafficking and other sordid crimes. There are some graphic details, enough to give color but not too much to completely gross the reader out. It’s dark but not so much. Probably medium gray on the blackness scale. Some things were somewhat dub-con. Most of the more disturbing aspects were off-page or hinted at.
The song for this book is Sweet Surrender, originally by Sarah Maclachlan. It’s a lazy choice because I have a hard time looking for a song about poly romances. The lyrics kinda fits the way Clover left his miserable life behind and surrendered himself to four dominant people. Turned out to be a pretty sweet deal.
Not outright recommending. I know how most people feel about poly so I say read this if you’re feeling adventurous.
Sharing these face claims from Ele, a GR reviewer because they’re perfect:
Posts on K.A. Merikan here.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
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Treasure Trail – Morgan Brice
Erik Mitchell traveled the world uncovering art fraud and relic theft, which pitted him against spoiled billionaires, unscrupulous collectors, mobsters, and cartels. He worked with law enforcement across the U.S. and Europe, but then a sting goes wrong, Erik ends up injured and returns to find his partner cheating. He decides to stop globetrotting and buy an antique shop in scenic Cape May, NJ, rebuild his life, and nurse his broken heart.
Undercover Newark cop Ben Nolan went down in a hail of bullets when a bust went sideways, after a tip-off from a traitor inside the department. When he recovers, he spends a couple of years as a private investigator, only to tire of seeing the worst of human nature. So when his aunt offers him the chance to take over her rental real estate business in Cape May, it seems too good to be true. Now if he could just believe he could ever be lucky again in love.
Sparks fly when Erik and Ben meet. But when a cursed hotel’s long-ago scandals resurface, the two men are pulled into a web of lies, danger, and deception that will test their bond—and might make them Cape May’s newest ghosts!
Treasure Trail contains sexually explicit material intended for adults 18 and over. This is book #1 in the Treasure Trail series.
Treasure Trail is off to a great start!
This new paranormal series by Morgan Brice is part of her inter-connected world of supernaturals. It’s something I’ve always liked about her work.
The story starts with Erik Mitchell just moving in to Cape May, NJ and setting up Trinkets, the antique shop that came along with the house he bought. He also just started on his blog, Treasure Trail, to promote his merchandise.
Erik had traipsed all over the world as part of his work as consultant with the FBI. It’s a dangerous job which had him crossing paths with people who had no qualms with deadly force. On one of his missions, he was shot. He decided to live a quieter life in a town he often visited in childhood.
Cape May is a charming seaside town. Unlike in most stories, the paranormal elements were dealt with quite openly. They even say it’s rare to find a person who has not seen a ghost. There are psychics, a coven of witches, cursed antiques and a very cursed hotel that was torn down 20 years ago.
This hotel plays a central role in the story, a villain of sorts that has caused the deaths and misfortunes of several owners and hotel residents. It has been owned by mobsters, corrupt televangelists and shady new age gurus, all of whom died violent deaths. Even after it was demolished, its evil presence is still strongly felt. It is part of the town’s history and many memorabilia were collected by various interested parties.
The mystery involved some of those memorabilia. A box containing assortments of ephemera from the hotel was sold to Erik. It was a veritable Pandora’s box, containing objects related to famous deaths. Not long after, somebody tried to break in his shop, tried to shoot him and attempted to run him over by a van.
The why was easy to guess, the who was what they needed to find out. While the bad guy was somewhat obvious, I still enjoyed how the various elements tied in together. It’s a book where you savor the process of getting to the answer, more than the answer itself.
There’s seems to be a red string of fate that runs throughout, fate being the main theme. Everything fell into place for Erik. He saw the house and Trinkets online the moment it was put up on sale. The ad even seemed tailor-made for him.
Then he met a very attractive guy he connected with right away while he was waiting at the bar for an online date which turned out to be an epic fail. And what are the chances that said attractive guy would knock on his door the next day?
Ben Nolan was a cop, turned private investigator turned real estate manager. His aunt passed him their rental business. Ben came to Trinkets to have an antique dealer assessed an object he found hidden in one of the houses he manages.
Erik and Ben had a lot of similarities. They were men who could handle themselves in a fight. Erik has a PhD and rocks the well-read, well-traveled, professor look but he had martial arts training and license to carry. Ben is all bad boy ex-cop with ink but is really nice. Both of them had dealt with traumatic experiences that made them change careers. Both were not close to their families. They came to Cape May for a fresh start.
The romance between the two was as insta as they come. They already had the L-word percolating in their minds within one day of being together. I’m not a fan of this fast a pace but the way they synced together that quick was in keeping with the hand of destiny thing the story had going.
It also headed down the miscommunication route especially with the trust issues but happily avoided needless conflict. I really liked how the author set-up my expectations for that awful scenario then deftly turned it into a reasonable plan of action. Shout out to Erik’s cool neighbor, Susan Hendricks, who talked some sense into the guys.
The world-building was a very enjoyable experience as always. Being part of the Morgan Brice/Gail Z. Martin shared world, various characters from other series popped up, including psychic Simon Kincaide and vampire Soren. This is a nice set-up because it opens the series to many possible story lines. We could expect everything from ghosts, witches, demons and fae.
There were no big reveal shockers. Cape May residents were a liberal-minded bunch. People were used to the spooky. More often than not it was a case of Erik being reluctant to reveal his supernatural experiences only to have the other person be easily accepting of the fact. And share similar experiences.
The best thing of all is there is a vast improvement in the writing with new narrator, John Solo, breathing new life into it. While I mostly enjoyed most of the author’s works and Kale Williams’s narration, I do find a certain blandness in them which was highlighted by Williams’s sometimes too calm cadence. Solo’s delivery made the prose’s energy come through.
Also, there were no TSTL moments here. They contacted the police. They did not make any reckless attempts at heroics. And yet the story succeeded in having a chilling, suspenseful climax that managed to make both heroes shine.
Treasure Trail opens this new series in the best way possible. It treaded a familiar path but went in directions that were not exactly new but tended to get bypassed in favor of creating conflicting and excitement. I am eager to see where the author will take this. I say it’s definitely worth the follow.
Posts on Morgan Brice books here.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Four Bears Construction: Nailed – K.M. Neuhold
My new neighbor is a total tool.
He hated me from the second he laid eyes on me, and I don’t have the first clue why… But, if he wants to hate me, I’m happy to give him a few reasons: mowing the lawn at dawn on the weekend, leaving garbage cans in front of his driveway, renting a petting zoo for my backyard…making a list of ways to drive him crazy is half the fun.
He deserves it with the way he’s driving me crazy right back without even trying— walking around without a shirt on, sweaty rippling muscles on full display, well-worn denim jeans perfectly molded to his…well, you get the idea.
My point is, if he wants a war, I’ll give him one.
***Nailed is an enemies to lovers, neighbors who can’t stand each other, omg the anger banging, drool worthy, low angst story, which happens to be the second in my Four Bears Construction series. It CAN be read as a stand alone. There are NO shifters in this series, only the OTHER kind of bears.
Nailed is the second book of Four Bears Construction, a contemporary series that grabbed me from the get go and had no plans of letting go soon. This is a story of a gallivanting dog, an underwear-eating goat, a grumpy mechanic and one annoying neighbor who was very determined to like and be liked by said grump.
Stone and his neighbor, Dare started off on the wrong foot. Since then, Stone deviced devious pranks just to push the other man’s buttons. Usually, these involved causing a ruckus early weekend mornings. Once, he even rented a petting zoo for one of the Four Bears, Everett’s daughter’s birthday party. A goat wandered into Dare’s yard as he was berating his neighbor. He was only wearing boxers…
I was annoyed by Stone’s antics but I couldn’t help but be amused by them too. He’s one of those people who can make you laugh despite yourself. He is goofy, charming, kind-hearted and yeah, quite intrusive. He had Dare’s dog, Rudy, microchipped without Dare’s permission to keep the dog from getting lost.
Rudy is the star of the show. He doesn’t do leashes. Rudy likes their neighbor and the man clearly loves the dog. There’s no stopping the mutt from going over next door where he’s very welcome. So you could see Dare’s dilemma here.
Dare leads a solitary life with only Rudy by his side. He restores bikes as a living, a job where he can work alone. People are not his thing. He has anger management issues that had long ago earned him a record. Dare is your tough, grunty alpha male but also bit insecure. And a complete mush when it comes to his dog. The scene where he broke down when Rudy got injured, I was really feeling that.
The two men are in their 40s but sometimes they come across as younger or should I say, immature. There is misunderstanding in the story but it happens off-page. It started in book 1, Caulky, when the Four Bears were helping Stone move in. Here, the two men squabbled while strongly feeling the USTs. Until Stone finally outright asked why Dare hated him. The answer was kinda dumb.
But, the romance was cute. It’s always fun to see grumpy guys melting bit by bit. I’m happy they took a chance at dating. For a relationship that started off with miscommunication, Dare and Stone was able to connect and fit seamlessly into each other lives. You wouldn’t think two very different individuals would make it work but K.M. Neuhold was able to put the two together in an endearing way that left no room for doubts.
I love the Four Bears! I enjoyed the way they razzed each other. Cole is pretty much very committed to his honeybee, Ren. Ev continues to be the doting dad while poor Ollie, the hopeless romantic, found himself in yet another failed relationship. I feel sorry for the guy because his book comes last.
Dare’s nephew, West, shows up on his doorstep. He was thrown out of the house by his homophobic dad. West is a bit of a smart ass. I hope he gets his own book.
Nailed is a fun book. I liked it better than Caulky. Dare and Stone are two older men who gave up on relationships long time ago. It took a free-spirited dog for them to find love in the unlikeliest person. Rudy is now living with his two favorite people. Good boy!
Nailed can be read as a standalone but this series is such a blast! Best start with Caulky and find out why Cole calls Ren his honeybee. Review here.
Dare and Rudy:
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Page & Sommers: Hither Page – Cat Sebastian
A jaded spy and a shell shocked country doctor team up to solve a murder in postwar England.
James Sommers returned from the war with his nerves in tatters. All he wants is to retreat to the quiet village of his childhood and enjoy the boring, predictable life of a country doctor. The last thing in the world he needs is a handsome stranger who seems to be mixed up with the first violent death the village has seen in years. It certainly doesn’t help that this stranger is the first person James has wanted to touch since before the war.
The war may be over for the rest of the world, but Leo Page is still busy doing the dirty work for one of the more disreputable branches of the intelligence service. When his boss orders him to cover up a murder, Leo isn’t expecting to be sent to a sleepy village. After a week of helping old ladies wind balls of yarn and flirting with a handsome doctor, Leo is in danger of forgetting what he really is and why he’s there. He’s in danger of feeling things he has no business feeling. A person who burns his identity after every job can’t set down roots.
As he starts to untangle the mess of secrets and lies that lurk behind the lace curtains of even the most peaceful-seeming of villages, Leo realizes that the truths he’s about to uncover will affect his future and those of the man he’s growing to care about.
When it comes to MM historicals, Cat Sebastian is one of my go-to authors. I am used to her writing Regency romances so it was a delightful surprise that she decided to shake things up and write about another time period.
Hither, Page is set during post-WWII Britain. It is an era that demands discretion. The book was able to fit the romance to the setting while delivering a well-thought out mystery.
Both MCs served during the war, Leo in what ever role he was required to do, James as the army doctor.
Leo Page, nameless and rootless, goes wherever work takes him. He was assigned to what was purported by his boss as an easy job. He is to take care of a high-ranking military man residing in the countryside who is suspected of passing on information about the British steel industry to enemies and a dead charwoman who had a reputation as a snoop. There, he meets James Sommers, the country doctor who recognized him as one of his patients during the war.
Leo is the first to admit, he lies. It comes natural to him as a spy. Having James recognize him strips him of his disguise and it sets the tone of their interactions. They were able to work together and flirt with each other openly when there’s only two of them. They were under no illusions what so ever. I really liked that the author made it this way because that they were able to establish a baseline of honesty in their relationship. To the rest of the world however, Leo was some clerk on vacation.
James had to cope with his PTSD. Leo, long used to various identities, struggles with the truth. I love the subtle way they took care of each other especially with the mental toll of the war. It was a tender and beautifully nuanced relationship
The story takes place in a span of a week or so. It was written in such a way that a lot of things happened within that short time span that it felt longer but also fast-paced. It made the romance feel slow burn so it evolved quite nicely. It also made it believable that a hardened spy would make a decision to stay with a gentle country doctor.
The author always makes the rest of her cast stand out. There’s a couple of interesting old ladies, Edith and Cora, who had a pretty colorful past and who had surprises of their own. There’s a very enterprising and resourceful teenager, Wendy, who is their ward. She’s always out and about. We have Norris, a too handsome secretary trying to look plain, and the vicar’s wife, Mary, who can’t catch a break. Even the dead Mildred Hoggett was a palpable presence. The fact I remember their names is a testament to how memorable the characters are. Usually, secondary characters are ‘just there’ for me.
The mystery was a clever whodunnit involving a dinner party. It kept me guessing. The twist at the end was really good. I really liked the way things slowly fell into place especially coming from Leo’s POV.
Although I said his decision to stay with James was believable, I felt his decision regarding his job was too hasty. Given the kind of things he did, it’s something you can’t just walk away from. I felt there might be repercussions that were glossed over for the sake of a happy ending.
However, I enjoyed the sharpness of the prose and the way the words flow. There was a great sense of time and place. It had atmosphere you can FEEL. And as always there’s an extra touch of kawaii by having some kind of adorable animal antics here and there.
Overall, Hither, Page is a good opener to a lovely historical series. It takes you to charming English villages full of busybodies, endless cups of tea, too many biscuits and ugly mufflers held on to with affection. It’s a book where secrets were traded, killed for, and hidden in plain sight until someone really looked. It’s also about finding self-worth and deserving a bit of kindness no matter who you are.
This is Cat Sebastian‘s take on Agatha Christie and she did it with deft touch and a coziness that speaks of hearth and home. Highly recommended!
Posts about Cat Sebastian’s works here.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Garnet Run: Better Than People – Roan Parrish
It’s not long before their pet-centric arrangement sparks a person-centric desire…
Simon Burke has always preferred animals to people. When the countdown to adopting his own dog is unexpectedly put on hold, Simon turns to the PetShare app to find the fluffy TLC he’s been missing. Meeting a grumpy children’s book illustrator who needs a dog walker isn’t easy for the man whose persistent anxiety has colored his whole life, but Jack Matheson’s menagerie is just what Simon needs.
Four dogs, three cats and counting. Jack’s pack of rescue pets is the only company he needs. But when a bad fall leaves him with a broken leg, Jack is forced to admit he needs help. That the help comes in the form of the most beautiful man he’s ever seen is a complicated, glorious surprise.
Being with Jack—talking, waking, making out—is a game changer for Simon. And Simon’s company certainly…eases the pain of recovery for Jack. But making a real relationship work once Jack’s cast comes off will mean compromise, understanding and lots of love.
Peopling is something Jack Matheson has no patience for. Social gatherings and small talks were things he particularly avoided. Betrayed by a friend and recently injured by a bad fall, he spent his days moping while his brother, Charlie tried to coax him out of it.
One day, Jack got on Petshare, an app that matches a pet owner to a person interested in helping out with pets. It matched him with one very intriguing person named Simon Burke.
Peopling comes hard to Simon Burke. Having crippling anxiety where words stuck in his throat whenever he tries to talk to new people pretty much guarantees a solitary life with his grandmother as his only friend in the world. It took all his courage to knock on Jack’s door so that he could walk the dogs. Little did he know, their grumpy human would change his life.
As somebody who’s as socially awkward as they come, Jack and Simon are my people so I was immediately drawn to them. Having preference for furry, four-legged creatures over walking, talking two-legged ones is another point in their favor.
Simon’s condition was difficult. The author really did a good job making you feel his struggle to say something as simple as thank you. While I was reading it, I wondered, how does one even handle that level of anxiety? The amount of courage to push through the fear is extraordinary. Simon Burke is one of the strongest book person I know. I also loved that this shy man who struggles with words has a delightful streak of snark.
Jack might have anger and trust issues but he is kind. He noticed right away that Simon has words roiling inside that he couldn’t get out. He found ways for them to communicate. He was patient and gentle. He knew how to listen to the unspoken.
The story has the right amount of slow burn to allow the attraction to blossom into a sweet romance amidst challenging circumstances. They were both fiercely independent individuals who’s trying to make it through life alone. I loved the way they gradually became part of each other’s lives.
Drawing is a key element in the story. Jack is a children’s book illustrator and Simon is a graphic artist. His friend’s betrayal affected Jack so much he has not drawn for 8 months. It was Simon who helped him get his mojo back.
One of the heroes of this book is Charlie. He and Jack were orphaned when he was 17. He sacrificed so much to provide for his younger brother. Even as adults, he still selflessly cares for Jack despite Jack’s surly attitude. He was patient with Simon. He understood what it’s like to wake up fearing the day ahead. He is a sweetheart and he deserves his own happy ending.
I am thrilled that my soft, magical boy, Corbin Wale gets a much deserved homage. Jack is a huge fan of him. The way Jack described his drawings takes me back to his amazing book.
Better Than People is set in the same world as The Remaking of Corbin Wale. It charms you with the same whimsical writing though less dreamlike. While The Remaking of Corbin Wale has a surreal, magical realism vibe, this book is more realistic and angsty. It is also did not have quite the same intensity. I love this book but I wasn’t as swept away as I was with its predecessor.
Nonetheless, I highly recommend reading this after reading Corbin Wale’s story. The two can be read as standalones but Roan Parrish creates wonderful stories of soft boys made of sighs, spice, and steel, it’s always a pleasure to meet them all.
Read my love for Corbin here.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Prime Time: Breaking New – Ella Frank
Breaking News is the continuation of Xander and Sean’s story and should only be read after book one, Inside Affair.
Sean Bailey, the older brother of my lifelong best friend, has always been a surly, temperamental pain in my ass. But sometime during the last few weeks, I’ve gone and fallen head over heels for him.
Gruff and charming, charismatic in his own way, I’ve found myself looking past my preconceptions and discovered a whole new side to Detective Dick—a side I could fall in love with.
But life isn’t always easy—it can change course in the blink of an eye. Sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad. I know this because last night I experienced both sides.
I went to Sean for help in guarding my body; what I didn’t expect was for him to steal my heart.
Like many readers, I was excited to delve into this Prime Time sequel as we were left with one heck of a cliffhanger in Inside Affair. Like some of them, I expected more. This review echos their reactions.
Breaking News picks up right after that momentous awards ceremony where the stalker finally decided to make his move.
While I am ecstatic that Xander and Sean lost none of their magical chemistry, there was really nothing earth-shaking happening in the story. Not that that I was bored, more like the story was ‘just there’ and wasn’t really grabbing me.
I felt it would have done the overall presentation a whole lot of good if the entire series was one book instead of chopping it to 3 volumes. Cliffhangers are Ella Frank‘s thing and which, I believe does work wonders if executed properly. However, Breaking News felt like we were dropped smack in the middle of a story that was just there to set up the next big event.
On the upside, Xander and Sean took their relationship to a higher level. Sean really stepped up his game here! And boy did he ace it. Not only risking his life to save Xander but also making sure he was emotionally okay too after the trauma.
Xander was okay for the most part, but had panic attacks triggered by unexpected noises. Sean takes him to his secret getaway to recuperate and woos him with an outdoor spa and a sky full of stars. It was all very romantic until sophisticated, city boy Xander was jumped on by a teeny tiny frog. All hell broke loose…
So yeah, romance-wise, things are pretty spectacular. Xander and Sean still has one of my favorite gay-for-you stories out there. The way they sync together was almost flawless. I loved the way they continue to discover new things about each other. It’s amazing how a person they knew their whole life could surprise them in so many ways. The book really did a great job highlighting that.
Overall, I got that middle book feels mixed in with a wonderful relationship development. This ends with another cliffhanger but one I already expected so it wasn’t that shocking.
I love this series, most especially the characters so I am looking forward to the third book. Xander and Sean went from fake to real to intense and now they just need to let the rest of the world know. The rest of the world a.k.a. Bailey a.k.a. Sean’s lil bro a.k.a. Xander’s bestfriend a.k.a. ex. If only it’s that easy…
“Thank you for showing me the real you. I had no idea what I was missing.”
“And what was that?”
“Someone truly magnificent.”
3 Stars – not exactly setting my world on fire but I liked it
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