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    One Line Reviews Of Some Books I Read This Year (January – March 2022)

    This is a round up of the books I read on the 1st quarter of this year that I’m too lazy to do a full review.

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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: 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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    NEVER STAY GONE

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    SERIES REVIEW: Vigilance Books 1 & 2 by Silvia Violet

    Vigilance is the spin-off series of The Marchesi Family. It’s about a group of men who take on crime in order to right the wrongs the usual law enforcement authorities couldn’t or wouldn’t handle. I was excited to read this series when I met some of the members who were backing up the Marchesis in rescuing Devil’s boyfriend, Joe.

    Vigilance members might not be related by blood but they had a great found family thing going on and undying loyalty to each other much like the Marchesi’s. The series as a whole had a similar feel to the original series. It started with me not feeling the first book that much but stayed on because I was super intrigued by their group’s cause and their leader.

    The relationships in each book showcase different BDSM-type dynamics. The romances are insta-lust turned insta-love. I’m more of a slowburn person so I’m not particularly enthusiastic about the them. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

    My usual complaint with the Silvia Violet stories I encountered is that she always had this nice overarching plot as well as interesting characters but tends to focus too much on the sex. I know this is her thing but I think it’s a wasted opportunity to create a nicely balanced action/suspense romance instead of an erotic romance that happens to have some action/suspense.

    I’m saying this because the taking down human traffickers plot was a great overarching thread, especially when they had to go against a high-ranking politician who was so damn hard to catch. However, it was unfortunate that this side of the story was minimized in favor of the romance. The books had such rushed endings. They could have had great action scenes right there.

    This is my review of the first two books, Giorgio and Niall.


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    Vigilance: Giorgio – Silvia Violet

    I’m a sniper. A trained operator. A bodyguard. A member of the elite private security force known as Vigilance.

    When my boss’s son acquires a stalker, of course I’m the one he calls to keep the guy safe. Mr. X’s one rule? Keep my hands to myself.

    Not a problem.

    At least, not until I meet Lane Porter.

    He’s gorgeous. Flamboyant. Fascinating. He makes me want things I can’t have. He stretches my self-control to the limit… and then breaks it.

    As the threat to Lane intensifies, we’re forced to hide out in a remote, one-bedroom cabin with danger stalking us from all sides, but suddenly keeping the boss’s son safe isn’t enough.

    My new mission is to make Lane mine.


    Giorgio was one of the guys who helped the Marchesis thus earning him their friendship and loyalty. He was tasked to guard the son of X, the Vigilance boss. He was explicitly told to keep his hands off the young man. Said young man was also the guy he hooked up with the night before.

    I didn’t care much for the two MCs. Giorgio’s character was supposedly a grumpy, protective, alpha male but he’s so domineering he became one-dimensional. I didn’t like the way he treated Lane. Lane, fabulous and sparkly, did his best to shine. He would have but his appeal was dimmed by his instant capitulations and Giorgio’s looming presence.

    There’s not much going on here and most of it was Giorgio and Lane having sex too much too soon without protection. Also, I’m not a fan of the dom/sub kink so I was meh on the romance.

    However, this book set things in motion and introduced the various mainstays of Vigilance who each have their own books. I pushed on because I was invested in the rest of the vigilantes.

    Rating:
    2.5 Stars – far from hate but not quite a like

    Soundtrack: You Can Dominate Me
    Artist: Andy Samford
    Album: You Can Embrace Eternity’s Cosmic Truth


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    Vigilance: Niall – Silvia Violet

    I’m a former FBI agent. Now I’m on the opposite side of the law as part of an underground vigilante organization. When the fight to stop a crime ring pairs me with a pawn shop owner, it’s hate at first sight. Fun fact: Hate and desire aren’t mutually exclusive. To further the investigation, Marcus and I must pretend to be boyfriends. Too much time spent in close proximity has me wondering if Marcus might have the power to thaw my icy heart.


    Niall was also another member who was involved in helping the Marchesis. That’s where he met Marcus, the pawnshop owner who was assisting as well. They hated each other, hooked up once upon a time ago and now had to be fake boyfriends in order to infiltrate the human trafficking ring in an exclusive island estate.

    I liked this one much better. Niall and Marcus had more personalities. Niall tends to be more uptight and wears fancy suits that instantly pegged him as a fed. Marcus is more laid back, snarky and likes being control.

    Their relationship felt more like that of equals. They had a fun thing going with their antagonistic interactions. And Marcus was all protective dominant alpha male without trampling all over Niall

    This book was also better balanced in terms of various elements. Unlike Giorgio and Lane, Niall and Marcus were actually doing their jobs instead of boinking all the time. Also, Giorgio was more likable here now that he’s out and about.

    We are introduced to some bad guys and some whose motives are not yet clear. Their undercover investigation really moved a lot of things forward. And they were so close too. But the evil villain is one slippery mofo.

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: Surrender Your Heart
    Artist: Missing Persons
    Album: Rhyme & Reason


    Vigilance might not have the strongest openings but once you get past that, it’s easy to get hooked. It a fun, escapist series that’s light on drama and heavy on the action. Recommended for those looking for steamy BDSM-flavored romance with a side of crime-fighting.

    I also recommend reading The Marchesi Family to get the most out of the experience. Characters from that series appear here as well. Vigilance is best read in order. Leo’s and X’s stories are next. X is the one I’m most looking forward to. He’s so mysterious we don’t even have his real name yet.

    Check out my series review of The Marchesi Family here.


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    GIORGIO | NIALL | LEO

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    REVIEW: Jack: Grime and Punishment by Z.A. Maxfield

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    The Brothers Grime: Jack: Grime and Punishment – Z.A. Maxfield

    One man’s tough job is a path to love.

    The Brothers Grime is Jack Masterson’s way of helping people in crisis after disability ends his career as a firefighter. Jack’s people get to a scene long after the physical trauma ends. They don’t solve crime or rescue the victims. They help people move on. The new job is all Jack wants or needs, until he gets the call about old flame Nick Foasberg’s suicide.

    Ryan Halloran’s cousin Nick has been on a downhill slide for a long time. Despite that, Ryan does everything he knows to help. Ryan only understands part of what happened between Nick and Jack in high school, but after Nick’s suicide, Ryan agrees both he and Jack need closure. They work together to clean the scene and despite the situation, heat flares between them.

    Jack is keeping a painful secret and fighting his attraction to Nick’s lookalike cousin, Ryan. Ryan calls himself a magnet for lost causes and worries Jack might be the next in a long line of losers.

    Despite his misgivings, despite the past and the mistakes they’ve both made, Jack gives Ryan something to look forward to, and Ryan gives Jack a reason to stop looking back, in Grime and Punishment.

    This is a rerelease of the 2013 novel with bonus stories in the Grime-verse!!!


    Pun-y titles always make me think light and humorous so I was surprised that this was rather bleak and angsty. Well, at least the first 30% of the story. I nearly dropped the book but I’m glad I hanged on. I mistakenly thought this was going to be mystery but it’s actually contemporary romance.

    The Brothers Grime has a very interesting set-up that’s quite unique. This is the name of the company that specializes in cleaning up crime scenes. It is co-owned by three friends, Jack, his cousin Gabe, and their friend Eddie. Jack was a former firefighter who came up with the idea after he had a serious accident that left him with a disability and needed a cane to walk.

    Jack: Grime and Punishment opens the series with a suicide. Jack receives a call from their detective friend and his occasional fuck buddy, Dave, that a friend from high school shot himself in his bathroom.

    Nick was Jack’s first love, his bestfriend and lover. He was very closeted. He and his friends nearly beat Jack to a pulp when he publicly tried to ask Nick to the prom. Jack’s cousin and friends never forgave Nick for that. The incident left marks on everyone. Jack carried the wounds ever since. He goes about life avoiding relationships. He also had to deal with the chronic pain from his injury as a firefighter. Understandably, he’s an angry man.

    This part was came off a bit heavy for me. After all he had suffered and through the past 15 years, Jack kept Nick’s secret closely guarded despite urgings from his friends, who also knew the truth, to tell the whole story. You have to admire Jack’s loyalty here. He badly needed closure and cleaning up the scene of death was it.

    Ryan is the other person who needed closure. Nick was living with him. Ryan is a magnet for lost causes who took in his drug-addicted cousin.

    Ryan put Jack in a dilemma. He looked so much like his dead cousin. This brought in the conflict of whether Jack was attracted to Ryan because he reminded him of his lost love. Many times Jack drew comparisons between the two. At one point, he wondered if he can think about Ryan without thinking about Nick. This also colored Ryan’s perception of Jack.

    Another thing here was that both MCs slept with other people off page. If you are like me, a stickler for exclusivity between MCs the moment they noticed each other, I’m happy to say this part wasn’t that off-putting. I did wonder for a while if there was going to be a love triangle with Dave. Thankfully it was emphasized that there were no feelings there therefore no cheating for all parties involved. The thing with Dave was automatically put to a stop.

    The book took a lighter, happier tone after the funeral when Jack and Ryan had their official first date. Ryan had the brilliant idea to test his dates with the first date playlist. This was the moment Jack’s sense of humor came to the fore and his character became infinitely more likable.

    Same with Ryan. I first thought him as abrasive but that was because he was dealing with a lot of things. It was him who smoothly turned a difficult day at Nick’s funeral with Jack into a fun getting-to-know-you session on their way home and capped it with a nice dinner date. He had a playful, flirtatious streak. My favorite part was how he breathed life into Jack’s morose world, reminding him how to have fun again.

    And with the similarities, I liked that Jack was honest that he had a type when it comes to looks and Ryan and Nick both shared that look. But he also made it clear he liked Ryan for who he is. “Ryan was so like Nick. Yet…they were as individual as snowflakes.” He had to work hard to convince Ryan though.

    Given that both MCs were trying to move on from a tragic incident, the romance was not cute and fluffy. There was also misunderstanding and a separation period. But it had plenty of enjoyable parts and the flirting/banter between Jack and Ryan brought the book up a notch.

    This series had a great supporting cast of characters I’m eager to read more about. Gage was the client whisperer who certainly lived up to his reputation. He and Jack were pretty close. Dave wasn’t my favorite person here but he was certainly intriguing. He’s going to be paired with Gage in the third book. He’s so deep in the closet I’m curious to see how Gage convinces him to come out of it. Skippy, a Brothers Grime employee who takes morbid glee in his job would make for a very interesting MC but he’s straight and married so he’s off the list. Eddie was mostly off page but his book is next.

    Jack: Grime and Punishment is a good book to pick up if you have a yen for contemporary romance with a gritty, unusual set-up, engaging characters, and serious themes balanced out by adorable kitty antics and a lot of sweetness and humor. I really liked how the crime scene clean up was worked into the plot. After all, it was what I signed up for and it didn’t disappoint. There were some gory details illustrating the kind of work involved but not too much to make you lose lunch.

    The Brothers Grime is a nasty business but it also brought together two men who would have otherwise missed the fateful connection that brought joy and healing to their hurt, angry souls. Jack’s company logo maybe “Life is not a fairytale“, it certainly doesn’t say he can’t have his happy ever after.

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: Someone New
    Artist: Hozier
    Album: Hozier


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    KINDLE
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    JACK: GRIME AND PUNISHMENT

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    REVIEW: Hitman Vs Hitman by Cari Z & L.A. Witt

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    Hitman Vs Hitman – Cari Z & L.A. Witt

    Ricardo Torralba and August Morrison don’t agree on much besides the fact that they hate each other. According to Ricardo, August is a spoiled brat who really needs to knock off the sass once in a while. August insists that Ricardo needs a sense of humor, a good lay, or a well-placed bullet. Maybe all three.

    Fortunately, the assassin’s profession is a solitary one, and they can go about their lives without getting in each other’s way.

    Usually.

    When a contracted hit turns out to be a setup for both of them, they narrowly escape with their lives. Now, even if they don’t like it (spoiler: they don’t), August and Ricardo have to work together if they want a shot at survival.

    In between firefights and questionable interrogation methods as they hunt down their would-be killer, the cranky assassins discover that under all that mutual loathing is a spark of chemistry they can’t ignore. They want to ignore it, they probably should ignore it, but August can’t help flirting to annoy Ricardo, and Ricardo can think of at least one way to shut him up for a while.

    But they need to focus, damn it, and figure out who’s gunning for them and why.

    Assuming they don’t kill each other first.

    Hitman vs Hitman is a standalone gay romantic suspense featuring two men who’d rather chew glass than fall for each other, a whole lot of inappropriate comments, and some buttons that will need resewing.


    L.A. Witt and Cari Z had wowed me with their awesomely co-written series, Bad Behavior. Their latest book, Hitman Vs Hitman is a fun, explosive romp oozing with USTs between two hired guns who were contracted to take on an assignment that was set up to get them both killed.

    Hitmen all over the world are ranked in a website called Rate My Hit. It’s where clients post reviews worded as satirical comments.

    The #1 hitman according to the website is Ricardo Torralba. He’s a born planner who has a trunk full of props and costumes that lets him slip through security. He’s of Spanish descent but he can change his accent when undercover. He’s a grumpy, taciturn fellow with a drawer filled with burner phones.

    And #2 on the chart is August Morrison, an unlikely person for such occupation. He is publicly known as the son of a billionaire. His mansion is built like Bruce Wayne’s. He loves clothes. Wears designer suits to his assignments. And jeeesus, when is he going to shut up?!

    This book moved fast, much like the way Ricardo and August were constantly on the run from whoever had them in their crosshairs. They paused long enough to come up with a plan to turn things around. Along the way, their combustible combination finally combusted and they discovered, that despite their very obvious differences, they’re really good together in more ways than they expected.

    The chemistry is off the charts! The sexual tension adding piquancy to the already strained interactions of two men on edge. I love the way these two threw off fireworks while constantly bickering. And that they took time before jumping each other’s bones.

    I do think the way their backstories were presented could have been stronger. While we get a good picture of Ricardo’s and August’s personalities, I felt their pasts could have been explored further. We learn more about August and his quirks. Also him with his famous billionaire face, going about his secret missions sans disguise and not recognized is stretching it.

    Majority of the book is spent uncovering the identity of the person who set them up. The mystery wasn’t hardcore mindboggling and you can kind of expect who the bad guy was. Still, it was an intriguing enough plotline.

    We get an HFN that left some things open in case the authors decide to give us a sequel. I wish they would because that conclusion certainly felt like the start of events that will shake up the charts. I liked that Ricardo and August did not retire as is usually the case when assassins are given their happy endings.

    Overall, Hitman Vs Hitman is light, humorous, suspenseful with OTT stunts and a lot of ridiculousness, mostly from August. It might not be a bullseye but it still hit its target.

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: Bullet
    Artist: Riot Child
    Album: Made For Another Time


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    KINDLE
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    AUDIO REVIEW: Shot In The Dark by Riley Long

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    Shot In The Dark – Riley Long

    If you win the bet, we’ll let you disappear. If you lose, you’ll be trapped on stage forever.

    Charlie
    I’m definitely straight, but when rock god Eli Steele offers me the opportunity of a lifetime in exchange for being his fake husband for a year, I can’t say no. That’s how I find myself sharing a bed – and more than a few kisses – with the lead singer of Blood Money. All I have to do is stay focused on my work and pretend to be in love with him. Easy, right?

    Eli
    I took a stupid fucking bet and now I have to convince Charlie to fall for me without using mind control. He’s straight, but the bigger problem is that he’s human and I’m not. Once he finds out I’m really a vampire, will he be able to look past my fangs and see what’s in my heart?


    Shot In The Dark grabbed my attention because of several things. We have a rock star who’s also a vampire who wrangled a fake husband in order to win a bet. If he wins, he gets to hang up his guitar and fade into oblivion a.k.a. retire. What he didn’t count on was falling in love with his fake husband who is straight.

    The rock star in question is Eli, 290 years old, the youngest in a band of vampires known as Blood Money. He’s tired of his current life and wants to leave it all behind. The band made a deal with him that they would end their life as a band if he falls in the love with the first person who walks in the bar.

    Eli is my favorite vampire here. He’s got that intense vampire charisma down pat. He’s also gentle, sweet, caring, and generous. He closed his heart, determined not to fall in love again, after his human lover was killed by a coven of vampires many, many years ago. That’s why the band came up with the bet.

    The other members were Drew, Rudy and Zach. The one who stood out the most was Drew, mostly for being an ass. He was right about a lot of things but did he have to be so goddamn obnoxious about it?

    Charlie was the lucky man who came in at the right place, at the right time. He’s an aspiring filmmaker who wanted to create a documentary about Blood Money. Meeting the great Eli Steele, he couldn’t help but feel things even if he was as straight as they come. And to his amazement, the rock star offered to let him secretly document the notoriously private band in exchange for pretending to be in love and becoming his husband. They had to convince the band their relationship was real.

    At this point, I was left wondering, how come nobody questioned that Eli was suddenly married despite knowing Charlie for only a couple of days? I would assume Drew was sharp enough to pick up on that suspicious timing.

    That little niggle aside, Eli and Charlie went about this fake husband thing in the most spectacular way. Right off the bat, the chemistry between the MCs was palpable and gave the story sparkle and zing. The way the romance was pulled off, in that delicious journey from uh-oh there’s only one bed to I can’t he’s straight to so very gay for you right now, was the best thing about the book.

    And alongside of the romance, the friendship that blossomed between Eli and Charlie was a beautiful thing too. It highlighted how good they are for each other. Charlie is lovely! I loved his open-minded approach to their relationship and how he just naturally fell into place in Eli’s life.

    I also liked many of the concepts presented in the story. However, they were as not fully explored as I would have liked. The world building was minimal, just enough to give paranormal color. We get only a small glimpse of the larger vampire world but that is already at the latter part. The secret documentary could have been an interesting issue, especially with vampire identities needed to be kept on the down low but that went nowhere. I also wished we get a more fleshed out backstory for Eli and his friends. Majority of the book was spent with the band on tour but I didn’t get a strong grasp of the other personalities apart from Eli, Charlie and Drew.

    Too bad we only hear about Eli’s fierce fighting skills after Charlie was captured by the bad vampires. That would have been one heck of a climactic scene had it been shown. Instead we get a ridiculous separation period that was totally unnecessary. Although, I get that the book was going for conflict but it could have been done differently.

    The audiobook is narrated by Andrew Morrison. He is a new-to-me narrator. He brought Eli, Charlie and their friends to life with distinct personalities, recognizable voices and accents. Although, there were a couple of dialogues where the accents bled a bit into another character, specifically Eli’s British accent and Charlie’s American accent. Nonetheless, I greatly enjoyed his performance. I was able to listen to the story in one sitting because he made it flow so easily.

    Shot In The Dark is a sweet, low-angst novella, focusing primarily on the romance with the paranormal elements mostly low key. If vampire-flavored fake husbands, gay for you tropes tick your boxes too, this one is definitely worth a shot.

    P.S.

    Thank you to Gay Romance Reviews and Audible for giving me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: One Shot In The Darkness
    Artist: Joshua Hyslop
    Album: One Shot In The Darkness


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    SHOT IN THE DARK

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    AUDIO REVIEW: Secret Santa by Jay Northcote

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    Secret Santa – Jay Northcote

    Keeping secrets is never a good way to start a relationship…

    Theo hardly has time to date. Between work and caring for his four-year-old son there aren’t many hours left over. He’s lonely though, so he joins a hook-up app and starts chatting to a guy called Luke. Luke seems friendly and they arrange to meet. Theo doesn’t mention that he has a child. It’s early days and he’s worried about putting Luke off before they get to know each other.

    Luke is currently working as Santa at the local shopping mall. He figures Theo never has to know. Christmas will be over soon and Luke will move on to a new, less embarrassing job. He’s surprised when Theo and a little boy visit Santa one afternoon. Theo doesn’t recognise Luke, and Luke realises he’s not the only one with a secret.

    Despite misgivings on both sides, they start dating, and the chemistry is amazing. But as Christmas approaches their secrets pile up like colourful packages under the tree. If they’re not careful, they’ll lose the best gift of all—each other.


    Secret Santa reminded me of the things I hate about dating. Namely, the awkward getting to know you questions, the contrived atmosphere and most of all, the false advertisements. My approach is to exchange a list of worst attributes right off the bat, see if the other person can or can’t live with those and take it from there. That way, nobody wastes time on false hopes. Obviously, this is not how normal human interactions happen. Which is why my dealings with other people are usually stilted and awkward.

    Anyway, Luke and Theo went with the more conventional approach, that is, good ole Grindr.

    Luke is currently temping as the Santa for M&S since he is in between jobs. He’s kind of grumpy but has a nice sense of humor. He’s fed up with hookups. He only started chatting with Theo because he’s cute and doesn’t seem the like typical horny douche he usually sees on Grindr. They hit it off remarkably well on that first chat. And they continue to hit it off through out the whole story.

    Theo is geeky and sweet. He works at the Apple store as a technician. He’s a wonderful dad. He co-parents with his friend (sorry forget her name), who is the mother of his son, Archie. He’s completely devoted to Archie but having a kid in the equation puts off a lot of guys he tried to date. So when he found Luke, who he really liked, he kept that teeny tiny fact a secret.

    Normally I don’t pay attention to children characters but Archie is great. He felt like a real kid. He’s only 4 years old and quite well-spoken but not in an overly mature, smarter than the adults way that is so often the case in fiction. He loves dinosaurs and Luke’s Santa presents.

    I didn’t enjoy Luke’s and Theo’s avoidances, omissions and blatant lies. Hell, Luke even gave Theo major openings to fess up multiple times but nooo, the man stuck to his story. I’m also dinging Luke for not telling Theo he knew about Archie. Seriously, they could have just talked!

    However, the blurb was definitely not lying about their chemistry. It was indeed amazing! This really shone through everything and I enjoyed it so much that I kept reading. It was like, the way I felt about the book mirrored the way these two characters felt about each other and their situation. Yes, there were niggles but I knew deep down, Luke and Theo were worth sticking around for.

    Patience paid off big time because when everything came out in the open, the story became more rewarding. Luke and Theo’s relationship felt fresher and stronger now that they were 100% honest with each other. I loved how Archie effortlessly included Luke in their little family. And Luke won major points for coming up with a brilliant idea to have Santa visit their house.

    This novella is narrated by Hamish Long. I haven’t listened to a lot of his audiobooks but now that has to change because I really liked his Theo voice. My favorite part was his portrayal of Archie because he really sounded like an articulate small child. Luke sounded good too. Overall, his narration was another factor that made the book more fun. His style is a great match to Jay Northcote‘s writing. If I remember correctly, he was also the one who performed Harper Fox‘s Brothers of the Wild North Sea and he did exceptionally well there too.

    Even with the major lack of communication, Secret Santa is a warm, cozy, low-angst and very sweet story. It’s full of holiday cheers and feel-good vibes. It’s short but felt complete. All in all, it’s 3 hours 44 minutes well spent and a good book to keep you company while waiting for Santa.

    P.S.

    Thank you to Signal Boost Promotions and Audible for giving me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: Secret Santa
    Artist: Gwen Stefani
    Album: You Make It Feel Like Christmas


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    SECRET SANTA (Italian edition)

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    SERIES REVIEW: Paranormal Princes Books 2 & 3 by Charlie Cochet

    Paranormal Princes is one the most enjoyable shifter series I have ever read.

    When I started on the series, I wasn’t that familiar yet with Charlie Cochet‘s writing. My first experience with her early shifter stories was a miss. This was soon put to rights by the hilarious and adorable The Prince and His Bedeviled Bodyguard. This is the first novella about an ocelot shifter prince who had to go on a quest accompanied by a grim wolf shifter acting as his bodyguard. It had all the humor and charm I have come to associate with the author.

    Paranormal Princes is set in an alt-universe where all kinds of shifters exist, everything from hummingbirds to whales. Not just shifters but fae, ancients gods and mythical creatures too.

    The father and King of All Shifters is Alarick. With the help of his advisor and long-time friend, Jean, he designs a quest for each shifter prince or princess. They are accompanied by a companion, chosen for them by the king. Many of his children were not happy with it. That is, until they realized it was for the best.


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    Paranormal Princes: The Prince and His Captivating Carpenter – Charlie Cochet

    PRINCE BERND

    As Prince of the Bear Shifters, I knew the time would come for me to prove myself worthy of my crown. I expected my quest to be perilous. What I didn’t expect was for it to take me up into Espen Mountain, a place that’s brought me nothing but grief and terrible nightmares. Not only must I find the five magical ingredients, but I have to do so alongside Saer, a mysterious and charming shifter coyote summoned by the king to be my guide. But who is Saer, and why do I feel as if we’ve met before?

    SAER

    Crushing on Prince Bernd from afar was one thing. Being given the responsibility of saving the prince and his kingdom was a whole other story. Banished from my kingdom by my own prince years ago, I never imagined I would be summoned to help Bernd. What could I possibly offer a prince? How was I supposed to save him? I was no one. A shifter with no place to call home. What I did know was that I would do everything in my power to help Bernd succeed on his quest. All I had to do was stop crushing on the guy, find the magical ingredients hidden up a dangerous mountain, and save his heart. What could go wrong?


    Prince Bernd is the Prince of Bear Shifters. He inherited the throne after his father died a tragic death in Espen Mountain. Bernd is still mourning his death years after. He closed himself off, spending more and more time in the library amidst the beautiful furniture lovingly made for him. The Prince is hot-tempered but he is devoted to his mom and his siblings. He takes his responsibilities to them and his kingdom seriously.

    Then the fateful day arrived when the king assigned him his quest to the very same mountain his father died. He was to be accompanied by Saer who will act as his guide. Attractive though he was, Bernd couldn’t understand why the king chose him. Saer was a complete stranger.

    The Prince and His Captivating Carpenter is a story of grief and healing. It’s not as funny as the first book but it had plenty of cute moments too. Saer was all adorably shy and awkward during their first meeting. He had been crushing on the prince for a very long time. The prince, unfortunately, didn’t even know he existed.

    I was neutral about Bernd for much of the story. For their quest, it was really Saer who did most of the work. However, their adventure opened the prince’s eyes to the realities of his kingdom as well as the beautiful things he missed because of his grief.

    Like all the books in the series, the romance was wonderfully done. It was interwoven seamlessly with the overarching thread. The chemistry between Bernd and Saer was so palpable, even they couldn’t deny there was something between them. Bernd might be the biggest, most powerful bear but he was also a teddy bear.

    The ending played out as expected. There were not many surprises here. It did, however, provide a nice jumping off point for the final book.

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: The Healing
    Artist: Carfax Abbey
    Album: Second Skin


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    Paranormal Princes: The King and His Vigilant Valet – Charlie Cochet

    JEAN

    The past has a way of catching up with you, even if you are immortal. I’ve spent thousands of years as the valet and companion to the powerful King of All Shifters. It has been my honor and duty to protect, serve, and advise him. I never intended to fall in love with him. My past is filled with death and bloodshed, but I never once regretted keeping Alarick safe. Now an evil I thought long gone has resurfaced, determined to kill Alarick and plunge the world into chaos. Saving Alarick means revealing the truth about myself. I don’t know what’s worse, failing to protect the king I love, or watching him turn away from me in disgust when he discovers what I really am.

    KING ALARICK

    As King of All Shifters, my powers are connected to the cosmos, and I have been around since the dawn of time. There are few things that can kill me. Unfortunately, one of those things has escaped its prison and is set to destroy me. The only weapon that can defeat this creature is the Scythe of Kronos, which has been missing for nearly as long as I have lived. When Jean and I set out on a quest to find the scythe, questions I had long ignored must now be answered. What is Jean’s connection to this evil? Why will he trust me with his life but not his secrets? As my most trusted valet, and my greatest friend, surely nothing that happens along this perilous journey can change what I feel in my heart for him. Or can it?


    Now here is a love story thousands of years in the making. Talk about slow burn!

    As many reader might notice from the start, King Alarick is a doofus. He is spectacularly oblivious to his best friend’s more than friendly feelings towards him.

    Jean has been with the king for a very, very long time. He was actually the one who designed the quests. Jean is very loyal to Alarick. Despite being blind, he is the king’s fiercest, most formidable warrior. He developed quite an intimidating reputation. He is also very mysterious. Not even Alarick knew what kind of creature he is.

    Alarick and Jean’s story picks up directly after the second book. A threat to the king’s life was revealed. This was connected to Jean’s past, something he had long since buried. The monster can only be killed by the Scythe of Kronos.

    The two friends embarked on a quest to look for the weapon. Along the way, they met several of the king’s shifter children who wanted to help. They met some of his past flames too. Jealous Jean is cute Jean.

    I love how the king doesn’t mind that people were pissed at him, most of the characters here were. But when somebody tries to talk smack about Jean, he puts the bitch in place. He does it firmly in the nicest way possible because the king is a genial, easygoing sort of guy. I have never seen him lose his temper, ever. Not even when whacked half-way across the ocean by an irate siren.

    The King and His Vigilant Valet is the best kind of shmoopy, squeetastic fluff! When I first met them, it seemed Alarick and Jean’s dynamics was that of the bumbling superior and the wise assistant. But here we see a new side to the always composed Jean, a flustered blushy side that’s freakin’ adorable! Alarick was a lot smarter than people give him credit for. And he was just so infinitely kind. It was that very goodness that made Jean fall in love with him all those years ago dancing together at the Parthenon.

    And damn, the twists were so clever! All the things that were built up since book one came together beautifully. The scene where all the shifter princes rally to defend their king was as epic as that scene where all the Avengers and their friends popped out of portals to fight Thanos. The revelations were very unexpected. I would never have guessed the real purpose of the quests and Jean’s true identity. And why he is blind.

    All in all, a grand and very sweet finale fit for the immortal king who started it all.

    Rating:
    5 Stars – absolutely perfect

    Soundtrack: Never Tear Us Apart
    Artist: INXS
    Album: Never Tear Us Apart

    P.S.

    Paranormal Princes should be read in order. Start by meeting the adorable diva prince Owin and the valiant warrior Grimm in The Prince and His Bedeviled Bodyguard. And oh, don’t call Owin adorable (at least not to his face). He prefers fierce.


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    THE PRINCE AND HIS BEDEVILED BODYGUARD
    THE PRINCE AND HIS CAPTIVATING CARPENTER
    THE KING AND HIS VIGILANT VALET

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    REVIEW: My Whole World by Davidson King

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    Joker’s Sin: My Whole World – Davidson King

    Atlas Durand’s whole world is built from the spoils of his past. Joker’s Sin is the most popular gay club in all of Haven Hart. Many clubs have come and gone, none able to compete with Atlas and his enigmatic power over his patrons. He would do anything to keep it thriving and anyone who stands in his way will be met with serious regrets.

    Toby St. Claire hates working at Vick’s Tricks and longs for his nights off so he can go to Joker’s Sin. Like everyone who steps foot into Atlas’s club, he’s taken by the owner himself and the magical pulse that owns him when he’s there. Joker’s Sin is Toby’s escape from his life and Atlas is his dream come true.

    When Toby’s boss realizes he can use Toby to help take down Joker’s Sin and make Vick’s Tricks the club to beat in Haven Hart, it turns everything upside down. Lies, deceit, and corruption threaten to tear Atlas and Toby apart. Is their love strong enough to survive it all or will they become victims of mayhem?


    I became curious about Davidson King’s Haven Hart universe after I listened to her interview in the Big Gay Fiction Podcast. I’ve seen her books around but was hesitant to start on her main Haven Hart series because there are a lot of books released.

    Joker’s Sin is the spin-off series that can be read as standalone. There are going to be only 4 installments so the odds of finishing the entire thing is high. Each major player in the Joker’s Sin club will have their own books. Three book are out so far.

    The series opens with My Whole World, the story of club owner, Atlas Durand. He is an uber-charismatic showman, loved by all who frequents his club. He runs a tight ship and puts an even tighter lock around his heart due to a tragic past that explains why his club is named that way. I pictured him as the magnificent Lenny Kravitz.

    His three closest friends work in the club. Ledger is DJ Edge. Max is in charge of the bar. Zero is head of security. Together, they make the club the hottest place to be in Haven Hart. I have no favorite character among them yet but they are interesting enough for me to want to get to know them better.

    The love interest here is Toby St. Claire. Toby is a club regular who had a hopeless crush on Atlas. His ultimate dream is to be noticed by the great man. Toby is sweet. Sadly, that seems to be all he is. Among the important characters, he was the one I least connected to. I agreed with one GR reviewer who did not like his character’s narration. His voice was overacted by the narrator in the audiobook. Toby’s exaggerated reactions were more annoying than amusing. As a result, I wasn’t feeling the romance.

    I’d love for Atlas to find a new love after what he had been through but I just didn’t feel his connection to Toby was that strong. I see it more of his protective instincts reacting to a sweet, gorgeous young man in need of help. The way their romance unfolded came across to me like we were told rather than shown. Although, there were scenes, like that lovely dance, that showed them forming connections. This issue is a ME thing because many people enjoyed their love story.

    One thing I liked about MM romances is that there is this nice tradition where the writers give the lead female characters little happy endings of their own. I’m giving this a mention because that mini arc about Tobi’s twin sister, Poppy, and hacker/bodyguard, Desi, piqued my interest more than the main couple.

    Haven Hart is home to many crime families. Toby works in the rival bar, Vick’s Tricks, owned by one of the minor crooks, Vic Kelly. When his abusive boss learned that he won a date with Atlas and was even offered a job at his club, he tasked Toby to gather intel on Joker’s Sin. If he fails, Poppy would pay the price. This put Toby in a difficult situation.

    I wasn’t particularly pleased with how he handled it. It’s understandable that he’s scared for his sister but I’m not a fan of the lies. Altas gave him several chances to come clean. The big man made it clear he was willing to help whatever the trouble was but Toby kept prevaricating.

    What kept me reading was Joker’s Sin, both the club and the person. I liked how they came alive. I enjoyed getting a glimpse of the inner workings of a club. Even though I don’t go clubbing at all, I love the vibe of clubs. It’s that palpable energy generated whenever there’s a crowd enjoying great music. I can see why people keep coming back to Atlas’ place. I’d love to be there myself.

    Joker the person was hell of a lot compelling. I wanted to know more about him. His history with Atlas was an entire book in itself. I was actually rooting hard for him and Atlas even though I knew how it played out. I wished this was their happy ending.

    While I wasn’t a fan of Altas and Toby’s romance, it still felt organic to the entire story. It had a pretty solid plot that moved things quickly so I wasn’t bored. There were a lot of things happening that kept my attention. I liked how they resolved the Vic Kelly situation because that’s where Wong, the Chinese mob boss, came in. His appearance was short but he made an impression. I’m keen to read a book about him.

    My Whole World was an effective series opener. My first visit to Haven Hart was a mixed bag but I’m already invested in this world. I liked how it connects to the bigger Haven Hart universe, enticing me to explore the other books. The author did an outstanding job integrating various elements from the main series and presenting them from new perspectives. Long-time readers would enjoy the easter eggs scattered about.

    This is a must-read if you are a fan. If you’re new to the author or a first-time visitor to this colorful town, Joker’s Sin is a good place to start.

    P.S.

    You can listen to Davidson King’s interview here.

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: Dance With Me
    Artist: Alphaville
    Album: Afternoons In Utopia


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    Kindle
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    MY WHOLE WORLD