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    REVIEW: Peacemaker by Morgan Brice

    Sharps and Springfield: Peacemaker – Morgan Brice

    Secret agents, forbidden love, danger, and magic!

    Supernatural Secret Service agents Owen Sharps and Calvin Springfield meet on the train to their new assignment in St. Louis, and sparks fly between them. But it’s 1897, and they need to be very careful—falling in love can be dangerous for men like them.

    It’s their first case together, investigating mysterious disappearances—including the two agents who preceded them. Grim evidence leads them to look for a darker purpose. Old ghosts haunt the railroad line, zombie rise, signs point to ritual sacrifice, and they suspect someone is trying to open the gates of hell.

    Can Calvin and Owen stop the mayhem, thwart the vampires, and find true love, or will everything go up in smoke?

    Peacemaker is a high-stakes steampunk MM romance thrill ride filled with found family, paranormal Pinkertons, intrepid reporters, mysterious disappearances, nefarious land brokers, hellhounds, zombies, vengeful spirits, dark spells, absinthe magic, a ruthless vampire railroad baron and a love that won’t be denied.

    Before Colt and Winchester, there was Sharps & Springfield!

    Peacemaker is the first book in the new Sharps & Springfield series


    Finally, gay Pinkertons!

    I learned about Pinkertons from Whyborne & Griffin, the latter being a former Pinkerton detective. I haven’t encountered many MM stories about these detectives, so I was super excited for Morgan Brice‘s latest steampunk series, Sharps and Springfield.

    Peacemaker is Book 1, and while there are no cosmic apocalyptic threats here, there are plenty of things that go bump in the night. The story opens with SSS Agent Owen Sharps’s anonymous meeting with his soon-to-be partner, Agent Calvin Springfield. The two somewhat hit it off, parted ways, met again, and were surprised to learn about each other’s identities.

    The new partners were tasked to take over a case from two missing agents. It involved a massive railroad construction by sketchy billionaires headed by an even sketchier vampire. Later, there were encounters with hellhounds, zombies, witches and gates of hell.

    As a means to lay the groundwork for future books, this opener built a fascinating world of magical secret agents, supernatural allies, badass non-magical humans, and enigmatic villains. As for the steampunk, it was sadly missing.

    A highlight was the Pullman, a historical equivalent of the trailers rockstars use on tour. This one, though, was incredulous. The way it was described, it has three bedrooms with full-sized beds for people over six feet. There’s a kitchen, a shower, and an honest-to-goodness fully stocked library, armament room, AND research laboratory.

    The exact size wasn’t mention, but the damned thing sounds like it’s bigger than my house. And it’s pulled by horses. HOW?!

    I’m on the fence with the storytelling. On one hand, it was consistently engaging, and I had fun. On the other, the investigation involved many interviews with contacts and witnesses. This is realistic, but then most of the key events were told rather than shown.

    Owen and Calvin danced around each other, trying to suss out each other’s gay vibes, but held back from openly pursuing their mutual interest. They practically just met, and with some homophobic folks publicly stirring trouble, they can never be too careful.

    Majority of the time, they spent it apart, individually pursuing certain leads. So it was a stretch when the two suddenly declared they were in love. I would have preferred that they took at least the second book to actually get to know each other before throwing around ILYs.

    Owen is a medium. It amuses me that he’s fan of Dracula the book. He has a Southern drawl and the charm, too. Calvin is a psychometric. He’s a bit more serious, but he loves comics. He used to run with a gang before being a Pinkerton.

    I like Owen, Calvin, AND Winston, the witch butler and the most important character, because the boys are lost without him. I would also love more appearances by the rest of the cast. There’s a wonderful found family forming here, and I’m all for it.

    Overall, Peacemaker has a great premise, the writing worked well for me, the characters are intriguing, and I loved this paranormal world the author created. I’m still wondering where this series fit in her multi-series universe.

    It might be a mix bag, but if there’s one thing I love about Morgan Brice, it’s that her series gets better and better with each new installment. Witchbane is an excellent example. I can’t wait when Sharps and Springfield finally hit its stride. 

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

    Soundtrack: Peacemaker
    Artist: Animal Collective
    Album: The Painters


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    REVIEW: Got Me Hoping by Casey Cox

    Vet Shop Boys: Got Me Hoping – Casey Cox

    It’s just a one-night stand, they said. It’ll be simple, no-strings fun, they said. They. Lied.

    I’m done with love and being broken-hearted. The only dogs I want to deal with are the ones I treat in the veterinary clinic I work at.

    But at thirty-four, having my first one-night stand can’t hurt. Right? The rules are pretty simple.

    1. Don’t spend the night.
    2. Don’t see him again.
    3. Don’t share anything personal.
    4. Don’t fall in love with him.

    But when Haze, the guy I spent a blazing hot night with and haven’t been able to forget about, shows up as our new receptionist, the rules fly out the window.

    There’s no way one night could lead to anything more. So why has Haze got me hoping this might just last?

    Got Me Hoping is book 1 in the Vet Shop Boys series and can be read as a stand-alone. Expect plenty of humor, found family, an adorable golden retriever, a foul-mouthed parrot, a whole new way of getting clean (as well as very, very dirty) and a heartwarming happily ever after!


    Got Me Hoping is the opener of Casey Cox‘s contemporary romance series, Vet Shop Boys. The prospect of cute couples with fur babies piqued my interest, so I had to give this series a go.

    It took a few tries for the book to stick because the opening chapters weren’t that riveting. It wasn’t until Henry Cavill-lookalike and veterenarian Noah started hanging out with Haze regularly that it clicked. As Jeff and Will of Big Gay Fiction Podcast would say, this is a story about nice guys doing nice things.

    Although we have examples of sunshiny all-around sweethearts who are completely adorable, our favorite angel Aziraphale being the perfect example, Noah and Haze failed to make me gush, despite being two perfectly, genuinely nice guys. These two men feel like secondary characters in their own book.

    The character that stole the spotlight was the 40-something owner of Vet Shop Boys, Gus, a.k.a. the best boss in the world. He’s been through the wringer, first with the death of his former partner, who was also the co-founder of the clinic. As if it’s not bad enough, his new husband was caught cheating on the very day of their wedding. Now the asshole is demanding half of the clinic in their divorce.

    Gus’s story was more compelling, and reading the blurb of his book, he’s going to be paired with a younger man. Which was disappointing because I was hoping for an equally mature boyfriend for him. There’s too few silver fox+silver fox romances, sadly.

    Noah and Haze’s romance was mellow and comfortable, spiced with some kinky nipple play and a lot of rimming. They’re kinda forgettable, but at least they’re having fun.

    The plot focuses on realistic problems and follows the MCs as they go about their days while breaking the rules of one-night stands. They navigate their relationship while Haze ponders what he wants to do with his life. This is what stood out to me the most.

    All his life, Haze jumps from one thing to another, good enough at everything but never a master of something. He took microbiology in college, then bounced from one odd job to another, including a bed tester. Now, he’s on his second degree, while making soaps and part-timing at the Vet. And still feeling lost.

    This is eerily similar to my situation, especially during my younger days. I majored in applied physics, even have a masters in the damn subject. But then I worked several odd jobs, and took various courses, including fashion design and hairstyling.

    If somebody asked me before what I want to do with my life, I really didn’t know. Now, I’ll probably say my dream is to have enough resources to do what I want when I want it. That should cover everything.

    Got Me Hoping is a good example of a 3-star book for me. It didn’t set my world on fire, but it got me hooked on the series.

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

    Soundtrack: Break The Rules
    Artist: Ruen Brothers
    Album: Break The Rules


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    One Line Reviews Of Some Books I Read This Year (July – August 2022)

    This is a round up of the books I read on the 3rd quarter of this year that I’m too lazy to do a full review.

  • Uncategorized

    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: Madison Square Murders by C.S. Poe

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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    REVIEW: The Former Assassin’s Guide to Snagging a Reluctant Boyfriend by Alice Winters

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    The Former Assassin’s Guide to Snagging a Reluctant Boyfriend – Alice Winters

    Cassel
    When I gave up life as a hitman, I thought everything was going to be better. I was going to become a PI, help people, and live normally… and then I met Jeremy, the most perfect man to have ever saved my life (I mean, he might be the only one who has saved my life, but he’s still the best at it). From that point on, it was all over for me—I knew we were meant to be. The issue is that he doesn’t… quite seem to realize that. But when he’s targeted by criminals (literally, someone just shot at his head), he needs to rely on someone, so why not me? He might not know about my past as a hitman or that I don’t need to be protected, but I’m prepared to do everything I can to save the day.

    Jeremy
    When my past comes back with a vengeance, I’ve never felt so alone and out of my element. That is, until Cassel offers me information that I desperately need, forcing me to drag him straight into danger. The issue is that he’s too sweet and innocent for this world and I’m not sure that I’m strong enough to protect him, but I can’t bring myself to push him away. As truths come to light, I realize that maybe Cassel isn’t quite who I thought he was, and maybe we’re not so different after all.

    While you can read The Former Assassin’s Guide on its own, you’ll get maximum enjoyment by reading The Hitman’s Guide series first. This book contains speedy car chases and not-so-speedy ATV rides, a wager Cassel is determined to win even if it kills him, and way-too-tight sparkly spandex suits.


    The wacka-doodle gang of reformed hitmen is back!

    The Former Assassin’s Guide to Snagging a Reluctant Boyfriend is the spin-off of The Hitman’s Guide series. We have Cassel, short, highly skilled, and hopelessly in love with a policeman. We first met him as Leland’s housekeeper, also, as a former protégé of Leland’s dead mentor. 

    Cassel has been flirting like mad with Jeremy, the officer who saved his life in the previous books, but the man seemed oblivious to his signals. Then one day, Jeremy was almost shot. Cassel takes it upon himself to help Jeremy find out who’s after him. And, hopefully, win his guy’s heart along the way.

    I was immediately drawn to Cassel. He’s similar to Leland but more insecure and definitely less exhausting. It makes him an easier character to get along with, both for the readers and the other cast. He has an inferiority complex when it comes to Leland, having been told again and again by their mentor how good the hitman was. In truth, Cassel is just as deadly. He certainly lived up to his assassin name, Reaper.

    Jeremy is perfectly likable. He keeps a low profile because of a secret past that now comes biting him in the ass. The thing with him is that, while it is his past that drives the story forward, Jeremy tends to take a backseat in many scenes. More often than not, he ends up getting saved or just standing by. He even pointed it out. He might be under-utilized but what I appreciated most about him was that he recognized how amazing Cassel was, even under Leland’s more dominating presence.

    I loved the first parts of the story the most. It felt more focused. From the halfway point, it sort of meandered. The plot became a convoluted mess. The gang was going around in circles.

    To make matters worse, there was too much Leland bulldozing his way through the scenes. I love this guy, but, he should be deployed in small doses. Also, there’s the inclusion of tiresome gags for gag’s sake that did nothing for me. This is par for course for this author. Although, she toned it down a bit compared to the original series.

    The romance was also sadly under-developed. I loved the pining and the way the story brought Jeremy and Cassel together. However, there was too much focus on solving the mystery, which was a long-drawn-out affair that could have been executed better. I spent most of it skimming, not caring too much about the big reveal. But I did enjoy the OTT action scenes. Expect a lot of things going BANG!

    In the end, what kept me reading was my love for these dysfunctional characters. Husbands Jackson and Leland are always a welcome sight, no matter how Leland-y Leland gets. But again, small doses, yeah? Police chief and group daddy Henry is a delight as always.

    And I might loved Cassel juust a bit more than Leland probably because he felt more relatable. Even Jeremy completely won me over at that last part where he had all these dates lined up to make up for the years of normalcy he and Cassel missed.

    The Former Assassin’s Guide to Snagging a Reluctant Boyfriend may have held out on the romance but, it readily delivered more of our beloved characters, some mystery, ridiculous antics, and gun-slinging action. All in all, it did not blow my mind but, it scored some hits 

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

    Soundtrack: I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend
    Artist: The Rubinoos
    Album: The Rubinoos

    P.S.

    Truth be told, I only read The Hitman’s Guide to Making Friends and Finding Love because I found its sequel repetitive. I highly recommend the moony meeting between Jackson and Leland here.


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    REVIEW: Wood by A.E. Via

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    A True Lover’s Story: Wood – A.E. Via

    This isn’t a romance about billionaires, movie stars, or models. This is a story of two ordinary, working-class men, dealing with life’s real problems, and trying to find love along the way.

    It’s been a long seventeen years but Herschel Wood Jr. is finally a free man and he’s looking forward to reconnecting with his old cellmate, Bishop Stockley, who promised him a place to stay and some help getting back on his feet. Wood had a good life once upon time when he’d owned one of the most successful tattoo shops on the Virginia Beach Oceanfront – until a fatal accident that was his fault cost him everything.

    Now at forty-six years old, all Wood wants is to work in another shop on the beach and find a mature, easygoing man to settle down with. But when he gets to his new place and finds he has to share the small trailer with Bishop’s childhood friend, he wasn’t expecting a sexy, smart-mouthed brat that enjoys pushing a man to his limits.

    Wood pressed in tight until there was only misunderstanding between them, his mouth mere inches from Trent’s parted lips. “You wanted to get a reaction out of me you annoying, immature little shit… now you’ve got one.”

    Trent Armstrong has never been considered a catch. He’s a twenty-nine year old laborer, an ex-con, and not the easiest person to get along with. He’s used to being the one people cast to the side when they’re done with him. Everyone he’s ever cared about has walked out of his life without a backward glance, so he’s used to the loneliness. His foul mouth and quick temper are a great defense mechanism and an easy way to hide his hurt.

    From the moment the tattooed, silver-haired man walked into the house there had been nothing but tension, side-eyeing, and sparks between them. Trent has always held back a side of himself that he’s terrified to explore, and without warning Wood’s voice, his maturity, that maddening scent, and even his damaged past all trigger feelings that Trent thought he’d buried deep long ago.

    Trent went completely still when Wood dragged his nose over his forehead and down the side of his face. His voice was shaky, and his breaths were hot and swift along Wood’s throat. “What the hell are you doing?”
    “I’m doing what you want me to do.” Wood whispered. “I’m playing your bullshit game, Trent.”

    The True Lover’s Stories are connected standalones. Each title features a different couple but will contain previously mentioned characters.
    No multiple pairings. No cliffhangers. Ends with a HEA.
    Note: This is a steaming agnsty, age gap, new-to-love romance.


    Trigger Warning: AA Recovery 


    Wood is the second book of the True Lover’s Stories. Readers of Book 1, Bishop, knew Trent Armstrong as the titular character’s hot-headed, mouthy bestfriend. By all accounts, the man was into girls. It took a silver fox ex-con with beautiful tattoos for him to admit, that might not be exactly the case.

    Herschel Wood Jr was mentioned in the first book as Bishop‘s beloved mentor. After almost two decades, he was finally released from prison. Now it’s time to pick up whatever’s left of his old life. Bishop‘s dad, Mike, offered to rent him his trailer. He’s to be rooming with a young ex-con who hated him at first sight but was also giving that certain unmistakable look that pinged Wood’s gaydar.

    I was excited for Trent’s story. He was an interesting character. He’s practically a brother to Bishop and a second son to Mike. He’s doofus and has a temper but his antics were entertaining. I wanted to see how this dork deals with his gay-for- you moment.

    I loved how Wood and Trent found their common ground despite their many differences. One was a mature, levelheaded former tattoo artist who wants to reclaim his lost art, the other was a bratty construction worker with a penchant for jazz music. Both a bit broken and a little lonely and realized they enjoyed each other’s company if they, well, Trent really (because this guy is an idiot), were honest with themselves.

    I really liked Wood’s explanation when said he would choose a cactus tattoo to represent Trent and it’s not because he’s prickly. It showed how perceptive the older man was, seeing through Trent’s bluster to his core.

    For all his faults, Trent’s loyalty shone through. When Wood’s demons got the better of him, it was him who doggedly nursed the other man back to health. Those scenes were the best parts of Trent.

    For Wood, the author went out of her way to emphasize the age difference, giving descriptions of how prison aged the character. This is different from the usual route most authors take where they tend to highlight how youthful the older man looks despite his age. It’s also more realistic which I appreciated.

    Wood has gone through and done a lot but he’s not jaded. He still has some optimism left, enough to give him strength to start anew. He has the kind of grace that comes with age and wisdom. Fine wine indeed. With that, he’s also in denial about his alcoholism.

    The book tackled the struggles ex-cons go through once they regain their freedom. We follow Wood as he goes about finding a job, deal with discrimination, meet people from his past, and tie up the loose ends. The story executed this theme well.

    I wanted to like this story more but unfortunately, the thing plodded along oh so slowly, especially the first half. If I thought Bishop was slow, the pace here made it a real struggle to keep going. I even put the book on hold for a couple of months.

    Trent’s development, from antagonistic to civil to interested to committed, was done believably and progressed at a good pace. It’s just that the writing made things feel slow. I gave it a go once in a while until I hit the point where things moved faster, which was around the second half.

    The last stretch could have been done better. The scheming ex felt forced, so were the petty jealousy. The most ridiculous part for me was the ending where out of the blue, Mike, who is straight and has a serious girlfriend, suddenly had the hots for a young, sex-addicted twink. It seemed like a ploy just so the next book will be connected to the rest. Do we really need another gay-for-you, age-gap story for this series?

    Wood might not have gone about it fast enough but it delivered the angst, the hurt comfort, the redemption and the happy ever after for two men who very much deserved their second chance. It didn’t exactly set my world on fire but I still liked it overall.

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

    Soundtrack: My My My!
    Artist: Troye Sivan
    Album: Bloom

    P.S.

    Wood can be read as a standalone but I recommend meeting the wonderful Edison, whose old world charm and culinary magic won the heart of an equally awesome and talented man. Bishop is really great and his story is much better. Check out my review here.


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    US: Bishop | Wood
    UK: Bishop | Wood

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    WOOD

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