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    REVIEW: The Venetian And The Rum Runner by L.A. Witt

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    The Venetian And The Rum Runner – L.A. Witt

    New York City, 1924

    Once their paths cross, their worlds will never be the same.

    Danny Moore and his crew only meant to rob the hotel suites of rich guests. He wasn’t supposed to find himself in gangster Ricky il Sacchi’s room. And il Sacchi wasn’t supposed to wind up dead. Now Danny has the attention of another notorious gangster.

    Carmine Battaglia is intrigued by the Irish thieves who would have made off with a huge score if not for il Sacchi’s death. They’re cunning, careful, and exactly what he needs for his rum running operation. But Danny’s already lost two brothers to the violence between New York’s Irish and Sicilian gangs, and he’s not about to sell his soul to Carmine.

    With a gangster’s blood on his hands, Danny needs protection, whether he likes it or not. And that’s to say nothing of the generous pay, which promises to pull him and his crew—not to mention their families—out of destitution.

    Working together brings Danny and Carmine to a détente, then to something so intense neither can ignore it. Something nearly enough to make them both forget the brutal tensions between their countrymen.

    But the death of Ricky il Sacchi hasn’t been forgotten. And someone is determined to make Danny bleed for it.

    The Venetian and the Rum Runner is a 144,000-word gay historical romantic suspense novel set during Prohibition and the Roaring Twenties.

    CW: graphic violence, PTSD 

    The Venetian and the Rum Runner is a historical mafia novel set in the Prohibition era. This is different from L.A. Witt‘s usual contemporary offerings but it has her trademark style of making the MCs go through hoops of fire before giving them their very hard-earned happy endings.

    The story brings together two men who were traditionally enemies. Danny Moore, leader of a gang of Irish thieves, found himself a wanted man when he inadvertently killed an Italian mobster. Having heard of the incident and duly impressed with the gang’s ingenuity in pulling off their heist (also grateful for reasons later revealed) Carmine Battaglia sought out the gang to hire them for rum running in exchange for his protection.

    Understandably, Danny and his gang wanted nothing to do with it at first. Italian mobsters were the reason Danny’s brothers were dead. Until pressing needs forced his hand and he reluctantly accepted the job. And so begins a very profitable business relationship and a simmering attraction that neither men expected.

    This is a long book. It took me a while to get into the first few chapters of the story but the rich atmosphere and the authentic vibe kept me hooked. I loved the 1920s setting. The writing effortlessly took me to that glamorous era of smoky speakeasies and creative alcohol consumption.

    There was a whole lot of black market items being moved around because people were thirsty and thirsty people were desperate. Alcohol was prescribed as “medicine”. People disguise the stuff in tea cups. Hidden compartments and escape hatches were at the ready in case of a raid. These parts alone were super interesting. It was pretty well-researched. The rich historical details really made the 1920s come alive.

    I had fun reading about the various clever schemes Danny and his gang came up with for their rum running activities. The story did a good job providing ample page-time for the lads. Although I must say that the best character is Danny’s bestfriend, James the priest. He gave the most sensible advise I’ve ever heard from a priest. There’s also a twist involving him that I never, ever expected. I hope he gets his own story because this holy man has a lot to tell.

    The romance was a slow, slow burning flame, full of longing looks and heated gazes that you can FEEL from across the room. In an age of secrecy and circumspection, the two would be like, “am I just seeing what I wanted to see?“. And I wanted to scream, yes, he IS looking at you like that!

    Danny and Carmine kept it strictly business for most of their interactions. But the tension between them was so palpable, had there been a third person in the room, they would certainly have no doubts about what these two men wanted.

    This had dual POV but I felt it was more Danny’s story than Carmine’s. Carmine spent most of the time in his office. He had no qualms doing business with Irishmen. He was also accepting of his attraction to Danny from the get go. There wasn’t much development to his character but I liked him all the same.

    It was Danny who had the most progression. He had to deal with his remaining brother who disapproved of his chosen path. He had to fight his attraction to an Italian. He had to reconcile with his core beliefs. When he did, he made the first move. That scene! I had to hold my breath because it was a beautiful wordless declaration done so excruciatingly slow and careful and gentle and sweet.

    Later on, the story took a tragic turn and stakes were raised even higher. This is what I loved most about L.A. Witt. She always creates these no way out scenarios that seem virtually impossible for her boys to get out of, much more, have a happy ending. Then she would have them pull off these daring, deadly maneuvers where they escape by the skin of their teeth.

    Danny and Carmine did just that and even found a way to be together. Although I wasn’t as satisfied with the resolution as I would have liked. It was a realistic HFN, given the time period and the situation but I couldn’t help wishing for something different, perhaps something with less goodbyes.

    According to the author, The Venetian and The Rum Runner was inspired by a conversation with Michael Ferraiuolo. He’s also the one who narrated it. He is my all time favorite narrator and he really poured all his talents in bringing the characters and their accents to life! His bad guy voices were especially nastily good. I definitely recommend experiencing this fabulous intoxicating historical in audiobook form.

    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

    Soundtrack: Run
    Artist: Hozier
    Album: Hozier

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    The Fortune Hunter – Bonnie Dee

    A man with nothing finds everything.

    Abandoned at birth, WWI veteran Hal Stanton faces bleak employment prospects in post-war London. Desperation spurs him to reinvent himself to hook a wealthy wife, one he will be devoted to even if he feels no real passion. But when he meets his fiance’s cousin, Julian Needham, it’s all he can do to keep his heart in check and his eye on the prize.

    From the moment he’s introduced to the charming stranger Margaret plans to marry, Julian suspects the man’s motives yet fights a relentless attraction. He’s determined to reveal Hal as a fraud but must handle the matter delicately to protect his sweet cousin’s feelings. A weekend at the family estate should allow time and opportunity for him to expose Halstead Wiley.

    Even as the men match wits in a battle of attempted unmasking, powerful sexual attraction threatens to overcome them both and win the day. Can a true love connection possibly grow between these adversaries without destroying lives and loved ones? 

    In a story involving gold diggers and love triangles, you are bound to end up hating one of the characters. Fortunately, Bonnie Dee writes people well. Julian and Hal were both flawed but still, essentially, have good intentions. The woman, Margaret, is intelligent, sweet and ahead of her time. 

    The story starts with Margaret introducing Hal to the Needham family as her fiance. Julian suspects Hal to be a gold digger and sets about trying to unmask him but of course, they couldn’t help but like each other and tentatively tried to get along for Margaret’s sake. Bonnie Dee did a great job keeping the undercurrent of attraction and deeper connection simmering underneath their truce. I felt sorry for Hal. He just  wanted to have a better life. And after Margaret’s decision, he was in an even sorrier state. Julian’s effort to find Hal and their reunion was all I could ever asked for. 

    When I began reading, I found the first quarter a bit slow and stopped for a couple of weeks. However I was glad I picked it up again because I enjoyed Hal and Julian bonding in the library. That joke about an angel visiting an orphan boy got me laughing. I like that Hal and Julian are both good friends and lovers. Margaret’s fate was predictable but still satisfying. I’m glad she found her perfect match.    

    Extra points for the the post-WWI setting and how the author was able to easily transport me to this time period. It’s rarely featured in MM books. It was the time when the upper class way of life started to change. There were less money and less servants. The manor upkeep was hard and the landed gentry turn to tourism to keep up with the cost. They also had to keep up with the times by installing telephones, modern plumbing and electricity. Old guards might balk at this but the more practical ones knew they had to make changes. I would have loved a tour of Julian’s family estate. I have always loved old houses and visiting a house with a name is always a treat. Especially if Hal’s hosting the tour. 

    Again, The Fortune Hunter might start slow and the characters might be unlikable but it would gradually draw you in and you’ll end up rooting for Julian and Hal. Highly recommended!   


    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

    Soundtrack: Shame and Fortune
    Artist: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
    Album: It’s Blitz!

    (source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36988262-the-fortune-hunter)

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    REVIEW: Spectred Isle by K.J. Charles

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    Green Men: Spectred Isle – K.J. Charles

    Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense…except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde.

    Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfil his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there’s something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain.

    Saul hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time. But as the supernatural threat grows, along with the desire between them, he’ll need to believe in evasive, enraging, devastatingly attractive Randolph. Because he may be the only man who can save Saul’s life—or his soul.

    First, isn’t the cover art gorgeous! <3<3<3

    This book gave me happy goosebumps. This book also spooked me although I am rarely spooked. This book gave me a pleasant case of book hangover. Therefore I declare this as K.J. Charles’ best book to date.

    The story is told in dual POV of Saul Lazenby, a disgraced archeologist and Randolph Glyde, an aristocratic arcanist. Both lonely men, both war veterans dealing with the pain and trauma of war. The two kept meeting at certain places and their mutual attraction was undeniable. I enjoyed their banter and Charles’ brilliance at creating dialogue and prose had me mumbling some lines and chuckling at the clever turn of phrase. Randolph is what is usually described as sardonic and tends to evade questions. But when he does say what he really thinks, usually when talking to and about Saul, I can’t help but internally squeal because it’s clear that he loves/adores/worship Saul. Saul is what is described as a tender but scarred soul. I greatly admire him and his resilience. He was just suddenly thrust into another war he had no idea existed but he didn’t back down. Sometimes in a love story, I tend to love one of the pair more than the other but here, I love them both so much.

    The rest of the Green Men deserved books of their own. Sam is getting one (hooray!) but I am conflicted because it’s m/f. Yeah, OK, they can’t be all gay as much as I want them to be. Barney and Max definitely should have their own HEA (love ‘em!).

    The world building and the magic system are awesome! Rooted in myths and folklore, seamlessly integrated into post-world war 1920s and very convincingly delivered. The time and place was very palpable and imagining the War Beneath and  the Great Summonings scared the hell out of me at 3 a.m.

    Please do read this book even if you are not into MM.

    5 Stars – absolutely perfect 

    Soundtrack: Time for Heroes
    Artist: The Libertines
    Album: Up the Bracket

    (source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35118935-spectred-isle)

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    Think of England: Song for a Viking – K.J. Charles

    ‘Song for a Viking’ takes place during/just after the events of the last chapter of Think of England and will be of no use at all to anyone who hasn’t read that book. It is not a standalone.
    You will definitely get the most out of it if you remind yourself of Think of
    England’s last chapter before reading

    This I enjoyed more that the main story because we get to see what’s going on in Daniel’s head. 

    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits 

    (source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29754736-song-for-a-viking)