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    REVIEW: Double Or Nothing by Cari Z & L.A. Witt

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    Double Trouble: Double Or Nothing – Cari Z & L.A. Witt

    Rich Cody joined the U.S. Marshals to hunt down bad guys, not babysit witnesses. Orders are orders, though, and now he’s protecting a hacker with ties to the Albanian and Sicilian mobs. It’s just another exciting day in WITSEC.

    Leotrim Nicolosi was born into a world of crime and bloodshed. When that bloodshed hits too close to home, taking down Leo’s boyfriend—the son of a notorious mob boss—Leo is determined to destroy the Grimaldi family. He’s got evidence that will send every last Grimaldi to prison, he’s got the family’s wealth in an electronic chokehold, and he’s got a vendetta that can only be settled with the blood of the man who killed his lover.

    When a routine transfer to a safehouse goes horribly wrong, Rich and Leo narrowly escape with their lives. With the Marshals compromised and Leo being framed for murder, he and Rich are on the run from criminals and law enforcement alike. They have no one to trust except each other, and nowhere to go that their enemies can’t reach.

    And the only way out might mean making a deal with the Devil.

    This novel is approximately 77,000 words.


    How far will you go to keep a witness safe?

    Rich Cody found out exactly how far the hard way when he was assigned Leotrim Nicolosi, a hacker holding information that will bring mafia families down. His transfer to a safehouse went to shit and the Marshal and his witness found themselves on the run from not only the Albanian and Sicilian mob but from several law enforcement agencies as well. There was no one they can trust, not the police nor the US Marshals, nor the FBI. The mob has a long reach.

    Double Or Nothing hit the ground running with a shootout that set the fast-paced action/suspense vibe throughout the book. There was no rest for the weary, Rich and Leo were constantly on the move, driving from one point of the American heartland to the opposite end. The only downtime they had was in the missile silo/bunker when they asked Rich’s marine buddy for help.

    I loved how the authors kept several levels of tension going. The book was very effective in the giving off that constant sense of danger hanging like the Sword of Damocles over Rich and Leo’s heads. Meanwhile, the sexual tension was a simmering slow burn that went nuclear in the missile silo.

    Beyond their romantic connection, there was Rich’s unwavering loyalty to his witness and his duty as a Marshal. I loved his dogged determination to see things through to the end. Grieving the loss of his lover, Leo is equally determined to bring down his killers. The two men took on an entire mob. They didn’t hold anything back.

    The book would make a great action movie. There’s a lot of explosions and gunfights and car chases that will keep you on the edge of your seat. There were twists and turns, double crosses and close calls. It was one heck of a mission.

    There was one scene at the end, where they both just went through hell and Rich thought he lost Leo. That part where he was hugging him while shaking with shock and exhaustion was one of the most poignant moments. You can really feel his heart exploding with emotions. Mine did just that.

    So just how far will you go to keep a witness safe? For US Marshall Rich Cody, all the way.

    P.S.

    Double Trouble is a duology and best read when you already have both books in hand. Double Or Nothing ends with a cliffhanger. Rich and Leo’s mission continues in Doubling Down.

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

    Soundtrack: Run
    Artist: Foo Fighters
    Album: Concrete and Gold


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    DOUBLE OR NOTHING | DOUBLING DOWN

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    SERIES REVIEW: Aster Valley Books 0.5 & 1 by Lucy Lennox

    Aster Valley is a contemporary romance series by Lucy Lennox. I think she’s one of the best writers of the genre. As I mentioned before, it’s hard for me to get into a pure contemporary romance book. But here, the author swept me along with her wonderfully written stories.

    The titular Aster Valley is a small town somewhere in the Colorado Mountains if I am not mistaken (sorry, I forgot the location). It’s formerly a ski resort town with it’s own unique charm that drew the characters in. The books are about the couples who eventually found a home here.


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    Aster Valley: Winter Waites – Lucy Lennox

    Gentry Kane is a rockstar I’ve been half in love with my whole life. And now he’s my patient.

    When Winter Waites knocks on the door to the snowy cabin where his next physical therapy patient awaits him, he has no idea his dream celebrity is on the other side. Gentry Kane is everything Winter has always fantasized about. But it was only a fantasy. What happens when Winter is faced with the flesh and blood man who wants more than physical therapy? Can one night in a cozy cabin lead to more? And how will that affect Winter’s growing career in the tiny, charming town of Aster Valley?


    Winter Waites is the prequel to the series. This is the story of how the famous rock star Gentry Kane found the love of his life among multitudes of fans in the middle of a concert.

    Occupational therapist Winter Waites has been a fan since the days Gentry Kane was singing in college campuses. To suddenly discover that your patient is not only your dream rock star but that dream rock star has been looking for you all this time, well, that’s mind blowing to say the least. It’s a highly improbable but very romantic premise. Don’t we all wish it would happened to us? Teen me would have been over the moon had Billie Joe Armstrong knew I existed.

    The story is very sweet and light on the angst. I loved how the author ramped up that awkward, tension-filled first meeting between them. I felt that scene! It’s easy to see how, beyond the physical attraction, Gentry would fall in love with the gentle, caring soul that is Winter. I didn’t even mind the insta-ness of it all. It was kismet.

    The only thing here was that Gentry’s hand was injured, which was why he needed a therapist in the first place. Winter was telling him he needed to keep in a brace. Then they had sex without putting Gentry’s hand back in the brace. All the while, I’m like, dude, your hand! Your hand!

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

    Soundtrack: I Will Wait
    Artist: Mumford & Sons
    Album: Babel


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    Aster Valley: Right As Raine – Lucy Lennox

    Tiller:

    As the first openly gay professional football player, I can’t afford to make any mistakes, on or off the field. And the absolute biggest mistake I could make right now would be to fall for Mikey Vining, my best friend, employee and, more importantly, Coach’s baby boy. I might fantasize about Mikey at night–every night-but actually touching him would be a serious personal foul.

    And falling for him? That’s completely out of bounds.

    Mikey:

    I’ve learned my lesson about falling for one of my dad’s players. They’re a bunch of spoiled jocks with more muscles than brains. I’ve spent years learning to keep my eyes, and my hands, to myself. But resisting the temptation becomes nearly impossible when Tiller Raine and I end up together in a small cabin in a remote Colorado town.

    Suddenly, there’s not much to do but look at each other. And talk. And hopefully, hopefully touch.

    But what happens when our stay in Aster Valley is over and it’s time to return to the real world? Will Coach blow the whistle on our relationship? Or will Tiller admit there might actually be something he loves more than football after all?


    Right As Raine is the nerd/jock, forbidden romance of football star, Tiller Raine, and Michael Vining, his personal assistant/chef/coach’s son/long-time crush he couldn’t live without.

    Tiller is an award-winning, highest paid pro athlete. Also a lovable gentle giant who adores his coach’s son. I loved how he calls him “my Mikey“.

    Mikey is feisty, talented, ambitious and hardworking. He’s been crushing on his boss for the longest time but keeps his hands off. I really liked Mikey for keeping it professional. His family is shit. They say they accept him as gay but then go out of their way to exclude him.

    As with the prequel, the story is very sweet, and fluffy. It is mostly light until the later part. I loved the slow-burn-ness of it all. The book really took time to build up the simmering feelings between Tiller and Raine, resulting in delicious anticipation and fabulous chemistry. Their shift from friends to lovers felt so natural and very easy yet very satisfying.

    There’s a bit of angst involved with Mikey having to deal with his homophobic dad. The coach is a manipulative bastard, a homophobe who pretends to be accepting but underhandedly sabotages Mikey and discourages Tiller from openly pursuing relationships.

    The scene where Mikey confronts the bastard was difficult for me to go through. Not because it was badly written but because of all the negative emotions the evil dad generated. I nearly dropped the book so again, good job to the author for the effective writing.

    The rest of the Aster Valley boys were awesome. Gentry and Winter make appearances as well as Mikey’s best friend, Sam, and the cute geek, Truman, who will be paired with him in the next book.

    All in all, Right As Raine is a heartfelt, comfort read. The family drama might pull you out of it but stick around because it is ultimately, a very rewarding book.

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

    Soundtrack: All I Wanna Do
    Artist: Piotr & Sans Kar
    Album:

    P.S.

    Aster Valley books can be read as standalones but I recommend reading them in order to get the best experience. The boys will make it worth your while.


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    REVIEW: Hell Cop by Astrid Amara, Nicole Kimberling & Ginn Hale

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    Hell Cop – Astrid Amara, Nicole Kimberling & Ginn Hale

    Three award-wining authors bring a magical city and its fantastic defenders to life!

    Home to demons, enchanting creatures, sorcerers, and millions of ordinary people equipped with paranormal technology, Parmas City runs on magic. But not all sorcery is benign. Whether they’re murderous spells, supernatural assassinations, demon-fighting rings or illegal incantations, paranormal crimes abounds. Sworn to take on those threats are the tough, tireless, and often troubled members of the Metropolitan Demonic Unit–the Hell Cops.

    Next of Kin by Astrid Amara
    Jay Yervant is a Hell Cop so powerful that his bare skin incinerates anyone he contacts. Isolated, he is tortured by desire, until he meets Brian, a sensual young man who touches him with impunity. But Jay’s burgeoning hope is threatened when a malevolent sorcerer unleashes a host of demonic assassins against Brian. Keeping his lover may cost Jay his life
    .

    Red Sands by Nicole Kimberling
    Anthropologist Michael Gold’s got problems. His apartment’s been ransacked, his dad’s missing, and he’s been framed for murder. As a half-demon he expects trouble from the city’s Hell Cops. Instead, he gets Argent, a man immune to his psychic powers and armed with disturbingly intimate knowledge of Michael. But whether Argent intends to use that to exonerate Michael or to convict him may not matter, because someone wants him dead.

    Touching Sparks by Ginn Hale
    When photojournalist James Sparks stumbles into an underworld of sorcery, blood sports and demonic drug traffic, he believes that Detective Ben Moran may be his only way out. But playing the role of an informant is far from safe, and as James uncovers evidence of police corruption, he realizes that Moran may be in as much danger as he is.


    Hell Cop is a fantastic urban fantasy collection brought to us by the same author trio who created my favorite supernatural world of the Irregulars.

    Astrid Amara, Nicole Kimberling and Ginn Hale give us Parmas City, a city that is powered by demons. Demons and demon body parts are used to create technology, medicine, used as labor, fuel even illegal drugs. Some of these demons can be seen on the streets going about their daily tasks. The city is ruled by old rich sorcerer families called hotbloods who own huge corporations and control portals that summon demons.

    Hell Cops is the street term for the police officers who handle any case related to demons. It goes without saying the job is pretty dangerous so the hell cops are typically magic users.

    This collection has 3 interconnected stories starring hell cops, Jay Yervant, Sam Argent and Ben Moran. Each story is a police procedural/mystery with an innocent bystander who found himself entangled in the case and with a hell cop.


    Next of Kin by Astrid Amara

    This introduces us to the world of hell cops by way of country bumpkin Brian Day who left his cultish roots to look for his father in Parmas City. He was working at the hospital assisting nurses when he spotted a man literally on fire and offered him a glass of water. He turned out to be hell cop Jay Yervant.

    Jay was so taken by the young man that he followed (well, stalked really) him to his apartment and witnessed (he was peeping) Brian’s rather spicy interaction with an incubus that almost turned tragic. The two were thrown together when more threats to Brian’s life surfaced.

    This is a strong opener. It built the world smoothly as Brian navigates his way around the metropolis and Jay providing a more experienced perspective. It then flips the dynamics with Jay as the virgin and Brian introducing him to the sensual delights of human touch. By virtue of his powers, Jay expels too much energy and burns everything he touches. But to his amazement, Brian can touch him without harm.

    Family is the key theme. Jay is from the prominent hotblood family of the Yervants. Brian’s search for his father led him to another hotblood family, the Sairs, whose scion was suspected of illegal activities.

    From what was a seemingly unrelated case of demons massacring kindergartners to a long lost father to Jay and Brian’s blossoming romance, everything was built up really well and came together splendidly. The mystery was an intriguing one and made me want to learn more about the hotbloods and Parmas City.

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

    Soundtrack: Touch
    Artist: Daft Punk feat. Paul Williams
    Album: Random Access Memory


    Red Sands by Nicole Kimberling

    This is a story of half demon anthropologist Michael Gold framed for the murder of his cousin. The hell cop handling his case was Sam Argent, who he later realized was the same guy he hooked up with one summer.

    This is my least favorite of the three. For one, we only get Michael’s POV. I understand that this is to highlight Michael’s telepathy and Sam’s mysterious unreadable appeal. But I had a hard time connecting to the hell cop’s character which made the romance unconvincing. Another thing I was unimpressed with was how unprofessional Sam was sleeping with the main suspect.

    The mystery here wasn’t as compelling as the first but I liked that we get the perspective of somebody with a demonic blood. I wished this was developed more because it would be interesting to get a demon’s POV. However, this story meshed well with the general vibe of the book so I still liked it.

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

    Soundtrack: Read Your Mind
    Artist: Enya II
    Album: Read Your Mind


    Touching Sparks by Ginn Hale

    A slow burn, age gap, hell cop/informant romance of Ben Moran and James Sparks, the photojournalist who was helping him take down a corrupt official. As the story progressed, we learn more about the plight of hapless demons, often treated worse than animals, hidden behind the ostentatious wealth and power of hotbloods.

    Ben and James were the best couple and the most interesting characters. Ben has known James as a teenager. James has been crushing on Ben since forever. The older man has suffered the loss of his lover and has closed himself off.

    I’m glad we get James’ and Ben’s POVs. The hell cop is attracted to James but does not act on it. Especially because he was someone Ben watched grew up. There’s a lot of USTs simmering between them and I love the anticipation that built up through the story.

    I totally loved James’ spunky spirit! He’s a brave soul who took in upon himself to investigate a prominent official illegal activities. He almost got himself killed if not for a bunny suit. But it didn’t stop him from pursuing his target. He was clever and resourceful. Despite being completely human, he fought a dragon and saved a sorcerer’s life.

    This is a great blend of suspense, action and mystery with high stakes, nasty villains, a beautiful romance and a sweet ending. This is my favorite of the three.

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

    Soundtrack: SPARK-AGAIN
    Artist: Aimer
    Album: SPARK-AGAIN


    All three Hell Cop stories fit together seamlessly while letting us see the city through several sets of eyes. The authors did a great job great job creating this magical demon world. I’m so glad that stories were by no means over because we have more cases to investigate in Hell Cop 2.

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


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    REVIEW: Loose Ends by Morgan Brice

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    Badlands: Loose Ends – Morgan Brice

    Cold cases, old enemies, ex-lovers, and vengeful spirits are making life dangerous for psychic medium Simon Kincaide and his boyfriend, homicide detective Vic D’Amato.

    The ghosts of Myrtle Beach are restless, trapped by love, secrets, scandals, and spells, keeping Simon busy protecting the living from the unhappy dead. Someone from Vic’s past is out to destroy him and everyone he holds dear, and the high-profile trial of the first case Simon and Vic worked together puts them in the spotlight—and put a target on their backs. As a deadly trap closes around them, can Simon and Vic tie up the loose ends to stop the threat, or will they become the newest ghosts of the Grand Strand? 

    Loose Ends is an urban fantasy MM paranormal romance with spooky supernatural suspense, hot sex, hurt/comfort, feisty friends, found family, ghosts galore, and dark magic. It is part of a series but can be read as a standalone and features an evolving, established romantic relationship with all the feels. Intended for readers 18 years of age and older.


    The Badlands series opened with a strong book 1, Badlands. Book 2, The Rising was a tad too predictable for my liking. Happily, this third book renewed my faith in this highly interesting psychic procedural.

    Loose Ends has exes crawling out of the woodwork. Simon’s former fiance, Jason, showed up with his pouncy ass demanding that Simon return to the bosom of his family and be the trophy fiance again. Vic’s sorta ex and former work partner, Nick, has yet to show his ugly mug but it was clear he was trying to ruin Vic’s life. His social media was hacked, his partner Ross’s car was sabotage.

    I had complained in my review of The Rising that the author’s execution of couple down time didn’t feel natural. They’re not necessarily forced but they don’t flow as smoothly as I would have liked with the story.

    Loose Ends finds Simon and Vic in their happy place. The romantic element was very much improved. The timing and execution of sex scenes felt more organic to the story.

    And it’s nice to see an established couple just generally being happy together without becoming boring. I really liked that they stayed strong and worked as a team against those who wanted to tear them apart. I loved that they avoided major misunderstandings and that they never resort to petty internal conflicts either. They weren’t an insta-favorite but Simon and Vic won me over with how well they made their relationship work.

    It’s not just the exes. There was also Simon’s estranged mother. She’s a cold woman who cares only about herself and prefers Simon’s ex-fiance to her own son. She called to demand Simon return to his old life, then sent Jason to persuade him.

    Simon had no intentions of doing that. He had built a good life in Myrtle Beach. He has Vic and a great support group. His powerful witch friends provide magical back up while his non-magical friends were always there to cheer them on.

    The stand out secondary character here is most definitely Ross. He proved himself a good friend and partner to Vic from the time they started working together. He continues to be awesome, advising Vic on his grand plans of putting a ring on it. I’d love to see more of him around.

    Simon’s psychic abilities had once again unearthed a dead body. The paranormal elements came wonderfully into play with a cold case, more haunted objects and later on, Nick’s nefarious methods of revenge. The series has always excelled in this aspect. In this third installment, the world has been established but it still offered different avenues to explore and more otherworldly happenings to investigate.

    This is the type of case where the perpetrator was known but has yet to be found. The story moved fast with a well-executed plot. It did a great job tying everything together, making clever use of ghostly characters and magic. It certainly lived up to its promise of spooky paranormal suspense with all the romantic feels.

    Although it says Loose Ends can be read as a standalone, I recommend reading the Badlands series in order. Start with Simon and Vic’s meet cute in book 1 and watch them go from strength to strength while solving supernatural cases. They have, since then, put a lot of ghosts to rest. It’s time to move on and take it to the next level.

    P.S.

    Book 1 review, Badlands.
    Book 2 review, The Rising.

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

    Soundtrack: Unfinished Business
    Artist: White Lies
    Album: To Lose My Life


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    REVIEW: Eddie: Grime Doesn’t Pay by Z.A. Maxfield

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    The Brothers Grime: Eddie: Grime Doesn’t Pay – Z.A. Maxfield

    Loving oneself can be a dirty job…

    Eddie and Andrew have dynamite chemistry, except Eddie is profoundly dyslexic, and Andrew lives to read. Andrew is pathologically disorganized, and Eddie likes things neat and clutter-free.

    Andrew is desperately ashamed of his hoarder father–a secret that could pull them apart even as a friend’s tragedy brings them together.

    When Andrew’s father’s condition deteriorates and he nearly dies because of his compulsion, Eddie and Andrew must learn compassion begins with loving one’s self in Eddie: Grime Doesn’t Pay.


    Eddie hardly made on-page appearances on Jack: Grime and Punishment but the man turned out to be the best Grime Brother yet!

    The Brothers Grime is the titular company co-owned by three friends, Jack, a retired firefighter, his cousin Gage, and their friend, Eddie. They specialized in industrial clean ups, mostly violent crime scenes and biohazards.

    Eddie: Grime Doesn’t Pay shows the The Brothers Grime cleaning up other nasty spots aside from crime scenes. They tackled a problem rarely featured in books: hoarding.

    This is also a book about teachers. Eddie’s childhood had been heavily impacted by teachers and even as an adult, they continue to change his life.

    Eddie was forever pining for his niece’s teacher. Trying his damnedest to impress in his best threads whenever he drops his beloved niece to school, he was often reduced to an awkward mess whenever he tried to talk to Andrew. Andrew tends to drop some book references in an effort to engage his student’s attractive uncle. Eddie ends up running away, leaving the other man wondering what had he done wrong?

    Unbeknownst to most, Eddie has dyslexia so reading is a struggle for him. This made him feel his crush was out of his league.

    I really liked how the story handled Eddie’s issues. Eddie doesn’t go out of his way to let people know he had a learning disability and he did feel “orcish” as he puts it, when he was with Andrew’s erudite friends. However, it did a great job portraying how Eddie adapted and overcame the obstacles. He developed an effective system that helped him with his daily tasks. It was uplifting and really showed how far Eddie had gone, from having teachers give up on him to becoming a successful businessman.

    There was a teacher who never gave up on Eddie though. Mrs. Henderson saw his true grit and helped him channel his energy. And so Eddie became Eddie ‘Cha Cha’ Vasquez, busting out dance moves no one can beat.

    Mrs. Henderson was also the teacher who brought Eddie and Andrew together many years after. One day, Andrew found her very disoriented in their campus. He called for help. Later, they found out she has dementia and her husband was dead for a week. Dave, Eddie’s detective friend, called him knowing this was relevant to Eddie. He quickly took responsibility to make sure his former teacher was properly cared for.

    I liked Andrew a lot at the start. He was funny, flirty and spontaneous. He jived fabulously with Eddie once they broke the ice. But he had his own dirty secret though. His father is a hoarder and Andrew was ashamed of the state his house was in. It was so bad police gave the older man an ultimatum to clean up or lose his house.

    Andrew really had a tough time handling this. It brought out some of his unflattering characteristics that made me feel less keen about him.

    But this is where Eddie shines the brightest. He was the nicest, most understanding, most patient teddy bear ever! He talked sense into his panicking boyfriend, offered unconditional support and he even volunteered to have his company clean the house pro bono. The best thing here was that he, profoundly dyslexic, completely understood what the hoarded books meant to Andrew’s father. I loved the connection he established with his father-in-law.

    This had the cuteness and lightness that was mostly missing in Jack’s book. The serious themes were deftly balanced by the humor. The first half of the story showcased the delicious USTs between Eddie and Andrew in the best way possible. The couple remained strong throughout even with the meltdowns and blow ups.

    The crew pitched in to help. They were as awesome as before and I loved reading about them. The group dynamics really worked so well. Jack and his boyfriend, Ryan, made a few appearances here and there. Gage had major page-time. I have yet to understand what he sees in Dave. The detective is still an asshole but their book is next so that might shed some light on his mysterious appeal.

    The Brother Grime‘s most notorious employee, Skippy, is my favorite. I need his book! His wife, Kelly-Ann, sounds quite a character herself. We only hear about her from Skippy but she made an impression. How did a former mob enforcer turned industrial cleaner and a tarot card reading woman who believes cats steal breath from babies end up together? Inquiring minds are dying to know!

    Eddie: Grime Doesn’t Pay took the series up a notch. It’s a great mix of levity and angst. It had gritty details and a whole lot of heart. It is a story about family, self-acceptance, coping with a loved one’s mental illness and appreciating triumphs no matter how small. Eddie really went above and beyond with his kindness and compassion. So it’s no surprise that he became the teacher’s pet.

    P.S.

    The Brothers Grime books is best read in order. Find out how his dead first love led Jack to the love of his life in book 1, Jack: Grime and Punishment.

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

    Soundtrack: The Hand Of A Teacher
    Artist: Public Affection / Live
    Album: The Death Of A Dictionary


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    REVIEW: Unhallowed by Jordan L. Hawk

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    Rath and Rune: Unhallowed – Jordan L. Hawk

    Monsters. Murder. Librarians.

    Librarian Sebastian Rath is the only one who believes his friend Kelly O’Neil disappeared due to foul play. But without any clues or outside assistance, there’s nothing he can do to prove it.

    When bookbinder Vesper Rune is hired to fill the vacancy left by O’Neil, he receives an ominous letter warning him to leave. After he saves Sebastian from a pair of threatening men, the two decide to join forces and get to the truth about what happened to O’Neil.

    But Vesper is hiding secrets of his own, ones he doesn’t dare let anyone learn. Secrets that grow ever more dangerous as his desire for Sebastian deepens.

    Because Kelly O’Neil was murdered. And if Sebastian and Ves don’t act quickly enough, they’ll be the next to die. 


    I mentioned somewhere on this blog that when I grow up, I want to be a Ladysmith Librarian, ready to defend the world against Outside forces with my trusty dictionary. I’m still waiting for my summons from Mr. Quinn, which is to me what a Hogwarts letter is to an HP fan.

    Every Whyborne and Griffin fan knows what the Ladysmith Museum and its Library mean to the entire series. It was almost a character itself, holding a certain mystique that intrigued me to no end. So I was beyond overjoyed that we get an closer look at the inner workings of this fantastical library through the eyes of the very Librarians themselves!

    Well, technically, its Archivist and its Book Binder.

    Sebastian Rath and Vesper Rune are our heroes. Sebastian is a character I typically describe as likable. This is because I liked him, his co-workers like him but I don’t think he would really stand out as a secondary character. As the MC, he has admirable characteristics and some distinguishing quirks but I have yet to connect with him like I did with Vesper. Combining him with Ves though, they’re good together. The author did a great job making their dynamics stand out from those of the original series.

    Vesper is my cinnamon roll. He’s very good at giving hugs. Raised in a cult by a fanatical mother, endured years of abuse, he and his brother, Nocturne, ran away. They lived in the ever present fear of being found out. He agreed to infiltrate the library for a sorcerer who promised to break the curse he and Noct are under.

    Majority of the story was spent with him working hard to conceal his true nature. Ves’s knowledge of the real world was mostly limited to what his mother and grandfather taught him and his brother. Which is a load of occult mumbo jumbo, fearsome fighting skills and top-notched book binding techniques.

    Unhallowed is set in 1910, 8 years after what should have been the end of the world, something that Ves and Noct were supposed to help bring about. Widdershins is now a different place. Still considered weird by outsiders but more accepting of the otherworldly as Ves was shocked to find out.

    The world building is immersive. There is the Widdershin mythos we all know and love but seen through fresh eyes. You get a great sense of the labyrinthine library and the kind of work it takes to run the place. We also get some background on the illicit rare books trade and hear about Ves’s strong opinions on page margins.

    The plot was a combination of paranormal, mystery and romance. It took place over the course of several days but it feels like the timeline is stretched because a lot of things were happening. Nonetheless, the story moved smoothly along. It tackled dark subjects, had a bit of angst but overall, the tone was light and humorous. It did a great job exploring the rich history of the original series, adding more delights to uncover. There were sinister secrets, crazy cults, dangerous books, mind-boggling designs, mad architects, evil necromancers and an unexpected love affair that answered some of my burning questions.

    Rath and Rune has a great supporting cast, starting with Noct, who’s totally adorbs, the mysterious Mr. Quinn, the Head Librarian, Irene, Librarian and sorceress from the Endicott family, Bonnie, Sebastian’s sister and Mortimer, Librarian and Irene’s fiance. He was an obnoxious, annoying character who I developed an unlikely soft spot for because I’m kind of tickled with the idea of him and Irene. I hope the author gives them a nice story arc.

    I love the direction this spin-off is heading! Unhallowed is a wonderful return to a beloved town with new characters to love and intriguing story arcs to keep you hooked. It’s a great start to another grand magical adventure that promises high-intensity book binding and pure-hearted weapons of mass destruction. If you love Whyborne and Griffin, curious about the Ladysmith library, and/or in the mood for some highly appealing wriggling bits, do read now!

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

    Soundtrack: Unhallowed
    Artist: Sunstained
    Album: Quiet My Demons


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    REVIEW: Screwed by K.M. Neuhold

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    Four Bears Construction: Screwed – K.M. Neuhold

    I’ve had my fair share of less than proud relationship moments, but waking up married to my brother-in-law’s best friend is a new low.

    A drunken wedding to a man who already rejected me once? Check. A hefty bet about how long it will last? Check. My feisty new husband, determined to make our friends pay up? Double check.

    I’ve never managed to make a real relationship last nearly a year, there’s no way Daniel will stick around long enough to win this bet. The only problem is the longer he stays, the more the lines blur between what’s real and what’s for show. Does he feel it too or am I totally screwed?

    ***Screwed is a woke up married, faking it to their friends but also totally hooking up, sweet, STEAMY love story that happens to be the fourth book in the Four Bears Construction series. There are no bear shifters in this series, only the OTHER kind of bears.


    We finally get to Ollie’s story!

    We know Ollie as that hopeless romantic teddy Bear who’s too sweet for his own good. He’s always falling for the wrong man. I’ve been rooting for him since book one, Caulky, because you couldn’t help but feel for the poor guy as he watched his friends find their Mr. Right one by one while he’s saddled with one bad boyfriend after another. Fed up with it all, he made a decision to give up dating entirely.

    K.M. Neuhold did a great job setting up Ollie and Daniel’s story since the previous books. Here and there, we get mentions of interest from Ollie or Daniel sticking up for him when his best friends were teasing him about his pathetic love life.

    Screwed starts with Ren and Cole’s bachelor party in Vegas. All the Bears and their boyfriends as well as their apprentice, West and his date, Sawyer, and Daniel were there. I wasn’t that engaged with this part of the story yet but things started to pick up after Ollie and Daniel woke up married.

    The way the author brought them together, through a drunken Vegas wedding, was perfect. It was such an Ollie situation. And I am dying to know how drunk Ollie convinced drunk Daniel to tie the knot.

    They could have gotten it annulled right away but Daniel’s tendency to defend Ollie was what started their crazy marriage life. The guys were making fun of Ollie for yet another wedding. They started making bets on how long it would last. Daniel’s very determined to stick it to the guys. So he and Ollie challenged the Bears that they would make it past Ollie’s record of 8 months. Later, they both agreed to divorce after the time was up.

    The Bears were being assholes here, going as far as talking their new employee, Miller, into hitting on Daniel knowing he and Ollie were already married. There’s still a lot of silly pranks and razzing. Almost everyone got their page time except for Ev and Watson. I wished they had more appearances.

    I wouldn’t have picked Daniel as the guy for Ollie. He’s not a relationship guy, preferring to hook up with different men and never staying long enough to get attached. He’s very cynical about love. He thinks sappy rom-coms have brainwashed people into believing in true love. I was skeptical at first but K.M Neuhold totally made it work! I was left with no doubts Daniel was the man for Ollie.

    They slow-burned their way through months of undeniable chemistry just bursting with sexual tension. Both are acutely aware this is best relationship they ever have and it’s not even real. The romantic development was executed really well here. It was paced just right and flowed smoothly. It gave time for Ollie and Daniel to form a real connection.

    You could clearly see how they fit into each other’s life seamlessly. They helped each other grow. There’s Ollie realizing he doesn’t need another person to complete him, especially after seeing how confident Daniel is on his own. Daniel, almost 40, finally had the courage to start school again and pursue his dream job after Ollie’s encouragement and support.

    I liked that they were able to establish a solid friendship while developing romantic feelings for each other. The way they fell in love happened naturally. It was sweet and low-angst. It felt comfortable yet exciting.

    It took a string of bad relationships, three failed marriages, years of bad jokes, one too many tequila bottles, a Vegas wedding he couldn’t even recall, a hefty bet and one feisty fake husband realizing his true feelings but at long last, our Ollie got what he deserved. If there’s ever a Bear worthy of grand gestures and rom-com-perfect HEAs, it’s him!

    P.S.

    Screwed might not be the last book in this series. We still have West and his hopeless crush on Sawyer, the bartender. Miller is also a promising new character. I want their stories too.

    Four Bears Construction is best read in order. Check out my reviews of the first three books:
    Caulky
    Nailed
    Hardwood

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

    Soundtrack: Can’t Believe The Way We Flow
    Artist: James Blake
    Album: Assume Form


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    REVIEW: Death Comes To Main Street by Felice Stevens writing as A.P. Eisen

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    The Paul Monroe Mystery: Death Comes To Main Street – Felice Stevens writing as A.P. Eisen

    In the sleepy town of Thornwood Park, something dark and ugly is brewing….

    Detective Paul Monroe is investigating a routine string of break-ins when the case takes an unexpected turn. Merchants are receiving threats, and things might be more sinister than he originally suspected. Paul’s been on the receiving end of those warnings as well, but he brushes them off, not bothering to mention them to his partner, Cliff until Cliff himself is threatened.

    In fact, Cliff discovers he’s been shut out of quite a few things and confronts Paul, who doesn’t understand the problem. The situation escalates quickly, leaving them at a crossroads, with Cliff conflicted and wondering if he’s an equal partner. Now Paul finds himself not only fighting for the people he’s sworn to protect, but for his relationship and the man who means everything to him.

    When an unthinkable tragedy occurs, it’s a race against time to catch a killer who thinks he’s untouchable and has committed the perfect crime.

    Only…nobody’s perfect.


    I’ve always described The Paul Monroe Mysteries as understated. I’m not sure if it’s the right term but I liked how fuss free the stories are. They avoided grand heroics or any over the top action yet delivered engaging, suspenseful police procedurals and heartfelt romance.

    Death Comes To Main Street is the third installment. I found this darker and gritter than its predecessors. Paul and his work partner, Rob, were investigating a series of robberies, threatening notes and suspected arson that resulted in the tragic death of a close friend. These appeared to be hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community. Paul and Cliff also had to deal with homophobic neighbors who were also the main suspects.

    While there are these unpleasantness, this was also, in a way, a happy book. Paul and Cliff’s relationship were as strong as ever. They both had busy, high-stressed jobs but they made it work. They remained solid and in sync even with Cliff’s issues with Paul’s over-protectiveness. They’re comfortable and happy. That really shone through all the negativity.

    Paul took major leaps forward by coming out to his boss and co-workers. I liked that this wasn’t the focus of the story but came about as part of Paul being ready to fully embrace who he is. And I’ve always appreciated how patient and supportive Cliff was about this and everything.

    Being a detective’s boyfriend and having been involved in the last two cases, Cliff could have easily poked his nose in Paul’s new investigations. I’m so glad he did not turn into some kind of amateur sleuth. The story also repeatedly emphasized that Paul does not discuss his cases with Cliff. This is another thing I liked because it showed Paul’s professionalism. Even when his boyfriend was harassed, Paul admirably kept his cool and handled it like the pro he is.

    Cliff’s involvement in the case, albeit through some unfortunate circumstances, happened naturally. The author did a great job letting his character shine even with Paul working closely with another character.

    This series has a good supporting cast. Rob stood out the most because he’s Paul’s partner and best friend. He’s always the first to defend Paul against the stupid and the bigoted. Also, there’s Annabelle who’s not even on page 99% of the time but is strongly felt because Rob always mentions his adored wife. There was the introduction of a new character, Joshua. His appearance added an interesting minor thread to follow.

    This time around, the series amped up it’s procedural by showing us the nitty gritty of the investigation. While realistic and detailed, it moved things at a brisk pace and happily, did not bore us with minutiae.

    The villains were all given so it was a matter of Paul and Rob finding enough evidence to arrest them. I like this approach to mystery because it’s not so common. Usually, we are left to guess the identity of the bad guy. Proving the guilt of the obviously guilty but slippery is interesting as well as satisfying. For me, it reflects real life crime. Wherever we are, there’s always some notorious lowlife who manages to evade arrest despite repeat offenses.

    Death Comes To Main Street gives us the things we love about the series while spicing it up with a tiff and a little more grit. There’s some low-key flash and bang but still a roller coaster of emotions, going from love and passion to grief, fear and anger, to acceptance and relief. Ultimately, it leads us to a happy end but leaves us hanging at the very last second. So not my favorite way to close a story but it does set the next one up nicely.

    P.S.

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

    Couldn’t Cheat Death by A.P. Eisen
    Diagnosis: Death by A.P. Eisen

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

    Soundtrack: Walls
    Artist: Stokeswood
    Album: Walls


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    REVIEW: How To Elude A Vampire by Alice Winters

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    VRC: Vampire Related Crimes: How To Elude A Vampire – Alice Winters

    Finn
    When the vampire stalking me sent me a letter, I was prepared for my new life with the man I love to get thrown into chaos. But as the days stretch on and nothing happens, I become determined not to allow that monster to rule my life, and decide that Marcus and I will move on. We can’t always allow the past to haunt us. If that includes pestering Marcus and harassing my fellow detectives, they’d better learn to love it, because I’m not going anywhere even if they like to remind me I’m the only human working in a department filled with vampires. But Marcus loves me for who I am, even if he’s not crazy about the cute pet names I call him like McBitey. Being with him is more than I could have dreamed, and even with the trials thrown in our way, he never fails to make me smile.

    Marcus
    When Finn joined the VRC, I never expected how everything would change. Now that he’s the brightest part of my days, I’m unsure of how I existed without him. Before Finn and I can settle into our new life together, we’re called in as lead detectives when a body is found in the river, and the case soon hits closer to home than we anticipated. I want to be by Finn’s side to keep him safe, but at the same time, Finn’s fighting for the freedom he’s always wanted after being forced to live a life of fear. What I do know is that my future is with Finn, no matter what happens.

    How to Elude a Vampire is the second in the VRC series and contains a display of manly prowess that doesn’t go as desired, reluctant bonding with a new pet, interfering with a snarky Russian’s love life, misuse of office supplies, a vampire with a killer fashion sense but very little game, a total lack of ancient kung fu powers, a feisty human who almost always gets his way and the possessive vampire who adores him.


    How To Vex A Vampire left us with a huge cliffhanger. As I mentioned in my review of the first book, I got too excited about the second book and read the reviews. I learned the name of Finn’s stalker is Dollmaker.

    HUGE clue right there.

    So I spent the sequel anticipating the big reveal because I knew I was right.

    I was!

    Far from feeling that the book was predictable, I was actually enjoying it more because knowing this guy was close to Finn most of his life only made it more sinister. Mostly, I wanted to see how it would play out.

    How To Elude A Vampire picks up six months after the events in the first book. Marcus and Finn are happy and have everything they need excerpt for that looming threat. They are now staying with Finn’s father, Orin, because his house is the most secure. Or so they thought.

    A series of murders connected to the Dollmaker, attacks right inside Orin’s house, more warnings from the stalker to quit the VRC, and overly protective vampires drove Finn up the wall. He’s tired of living in fear and feeling controlled.

    Nightmares that were actually memories revealed past events that led to Finn losing his arm and leg. We finally learn about Finn’s past as well as the history of vampires.

    I loved how the vampires rally to protect Finn. My boy Karsyn grumps his way through the book but you could tell he’ll die for his human friend if needed. There’s a great addition of Claude, Marcus’s outrageously dressed, outrageously flirty, surprisingly smart brother, who latched on to a certain snarky Russian vampire. These two!!!

    And we have Marcus. I have a better appreciation of Marcus here because six month earlier, he would have wrinkled his nose at the mere thought of interacting with humans. Now, this big bad vampire is so completely head over heels over his tiny human that he’s willing to make a fool of himself just to make him laugh. Witness another Date. Also, a lot of adorable mushy stuff.

    Marcus trying to impress Finn ♡ (≧◡≦) !!!

    With Finn and Marcus as an establish couple, the primary focus was the mystery. There were several nicely deployed plot twists that I didn’t see coming. There’s still a lot of snark and gags that were sometimes repetitive. There were many scenes where they completely ignored the pressing issue at hand just to exchange snarks. However, the plot moved at a fast pace and laid out Finn’s troubles in a way that kept me consistently engaged.

    The build-up, the showdown and the comeuppance played out quick but intensely suspenseful. All throughout the scene, I was at the edge of my seat wondering how Finn is going make it out of there alive. But the man is smart and resourceful and resilient as fuck. That and Marcus.

    How To Elude A Vampire gives us a happy end to Finn’s stalker woes. I kind of wish Finn was turned into a vampire just so he wouldn’t be injured so easily (and spare Marcus the agony of seeing the love of his life live die of old age while he gets to live forever <– my main issue with human + vampire couples) but that epilogue was super sweet.

    I’m glad the author did not drag this stalker business out for several more books. I felt as relieved as Finn and just as ready to move on to happier matters.

    Namely, Karsyn and Claude.

    P.S.

    The VRC books are not standalones and should be read in order. Witness how a short, sassy human charmed a grumpy, confident, 300-year old vampire into the best worst date ever in How To Vex A Vampire. Review here.

    Posts on Alice Winters books here.

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

    Soundtrack: Treat Me Like A Doll
    Artist: Girls Rituals
    Album: Reddishness


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    REVIEW: How To Vex A Vampire by Alice Winters

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    VRC: Vampire Related Crimes: How To Vex A Vampire – Alice Winters

    Finn
    Getting into the vampire-only detective unit was the easy part; what’s going to be more difficult is dealing with my new partner, an ancient vampire who keeps threatening to eat me. The unit has never had a human in it, and Marcus—or as I like to call him, Fangy McFangface—would really prefer to keep it that way. He’s grumpy, short-tempered, and broody, but I have a way with words and I know he’s starting to like me, even if he swears he’s not. But what he doesn’t know is that I didn’t join the unit because I was tired of being a homicide detective, I joined because there is someone after me. They’ve already taken enough from me and I’m afraid they’re going to take all of me if I don’t find someone to help. That’s all Marcus was supposed to be, but now, he’s so much more and I can’t imagine my life without him.

    Marcus
    The moment the pesky human walked through that door, I knew I had to get rid of him. He’s charming and almost everyone else instantly loves him, but he doesn’t understand how risky it is being part of this unit as a human. But as I get to know the stubborn man, I learn that perhaps he’s not as naive as I once thought. And maybe he’s what I needed to realize there is more to life than just work and my dog. A group arises who is threatening to disrupt the alliance between the humans and the vampires, but Finn is the one who shows me how strong that alliance can be and reminds me why it’s worth protecting. When threats hit closer to home, I realize I would do anything for Finn because he’s brought so much joy to my life—and because he’s mine.

    This 105k word book contains: A creative use for undergarments, unintentional splits, a wolfhound who just wants to be a part of things, a vertically challenged human who still manages to wrap every vampire he meets around his little finger, the best date ever, possessiveness, really awkward dancing, some workplace revenge, and just a bite or two. Or three. 


    I have read about three Alice Winters books so far, the first Hitman’s Guide story and the two In The Mind installments. I noticed that her pairings usually come in the form of a persistent, outgoing, flirty lead pestering a stoic, reserved, grumpy love interest who secretly enjoys the pestering but doing his manly best to resist. I’m enjoying the heck out of these chases especially when the other shoe drops.

    How To Vex A Vampire is another paranormal offering set in a world where vampires are free to mingle among humans after a bloody history of persecution and deaths. The VRC is a police department who handles any case related to vampires.

    Finn finally managed to get himself into the department, something he worked hard and schemed hard to achieve for entirely very personal reasons. He was partnered with the notorious Marcus Church, a vampire detective known for his gruff manners.

    The book presents several mysteries. First is the case of a murdered female vampire and a drug that drives vampires into a feeding frenzy. There’s also a hooded ancient vampire stalking Finn for more than a decade. They know next to nothing about this entity but this is the only thing that puts real fear into the heart of the spunky Finnegan Hayes.

    The two MCs hinted at some secrets of their own. Marcus’s true status as a vampire is not known to most. Finn had to make a few educated guesses. The biggest mystery of all might be Finn himself. What makes this little human so special that high-level vampires rally to protect him?

    I love Finn! Finn is, in Marcus’s words, a tiny, fragile human. He lost an arm and a leg from a car accident. He now wears high-tech prosthesis, something Finn goes out of his way not to advertise. Our boy is out to prove that he can stand toe to toe with big bad vampires. He has proven again and again that he can. He’s a man on a mission to kill a very specific vampire. Meanwhile, he’s also hellbent on pursuing one other bloodsucker…

    Poor Marcus tried to put up immovable walls but alas. As the two detectives go about finding the bad guys and before he even realized it, Marcus was swept away by the unstoppable force that is Finn. It was a lot of fun to watch! Check out The Date.

    The book stands out for its humor. It does not have the exhausting hyperactive wackadoodle antics of The Hitman’s Guide. It has a more toned down but still OTT snark for snark exchange that is as funny but not as overwhelming.

    There’s suspense and a lot of action but the focus here is on the character interactions and romantic development. The police procedural aspect might not be the most realistic or even accurate but still procedural enough for us to feel these guys are doing their jobs.

    The VRC series has a great cast to work with, many of them memorable. So it’s no surprise that a couple of supporting characters have books of their own, like my grumpy Russian, Karsyn, and nice guy, DeGray. I’m excited to get to their stories.

    This series opener ends with a cliffhanger so we will be continuing the hunt on the second book. Finn has now charmed enough vampires to form an army. One very vexed vampire is right in front, ready to tear the world apart for him.

    Time to end this elusive ancient threat!

    P.S.

    And so because I got too excited for book 2, I read some reviews and learned the name of this mysterious stalker vampire is Doll Maker. This is giving me ideas! Could it be him?!

    Posts on Alice Winters works here.

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

    Soundtrack: Walls Down
    Artist: Memba feat. EVAN GIIA
    Album: Saga-II


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