The Formicary: Cross – S.E. Harmon
I thought getting shot, losing my memory, and being hunted by people I didn’t know for reasons I couldn’t remember was rock bottom. Turns out I was wrong. I found a shovel, dug a little deeper, and found a whole new sublevel of suck.
Apparently, I took something from the Formicary that doesn’t belong to me. The boss, Petar Dobroslav, is willing to do just about anything to get it back. Making an enemy of a super-secret organization of assassins might seem like a bad idea and…well, it absolutely is.
To be honest, it was inevitable that Grayson Laurie would get dragged into my mess. In my line of work, love is a luxury, a vulnerability I can’t afford. But I couldn’t stay away, and now we’re both paying the price.
But I can fix this. I will fix this. Everyone knows the Formicary is a formidable adversary. It’s time to remind them that so is Christian Cross.
Cross is the riveting sequel to the sci-fi amnesia romance series, The Formicary. It picks up after the events in the first book, Chrysalis, where we find the unlikely named assassin, Christian Cross and his doctor boyfriend, Grayson Laurie, held inside The Formicary under the control of Chris’s grandfather, Peter Dobroslav.
The Formicary is a giant hive of scientists, lab techs, and support staff conducting highly unethical experiments, like turning people such as Chris into android super soldiers. Chris was blackmailed by his evil grandpa to find the missing scientist in charge of some high-level super secret experiment. Or else Gray pays the price.
In the first book, I found Chris’s little commentaries superfluous. There were still a few here but now, the idiot has endeared himself. The story is from his 1st-person POV, and boy, is this guy just full of brilliant dumb ideas! He’s actually funny now, though sometimes, not so much.
Chris is the first to admit he’s more a man of action than a thinker of deep thoughts. He’s been planning to kill the evil Dobroslav, and his genius plan is A. get to Dobroslav, B. pull the trigger.
Luckily, he got Gray’s beauty and brains on his side. This sweet, mild-mannered doctor is not only the person who hangs the moon and is the center of the universe, but also the anchor that grounds the Swiss cheese mind and questionable identity of the experimental guinea pig named Christian Cross a.k.a. Chrysalis.
I totally understand why Chris looks at Gray with permanent heart eyes. Gray is perfect! He’s my favorite character. The doctor is a saint for putting up with the doofus’s antics since college. I loved that the prim and proper man has the sense of humor to roll with Chris’s man-child jokes.
And it was the doctor, with the help of their android frenemy, Chaos, and Chris’s best friend, Nick, who came up with a more solid plan to take down The Formicary. Something where the four of them come out alive.
This book is a fantastic example of how to do an established couple romance. The plot effectively created external conflicts highlighting the unbreakable bond between the two MCs. There were flashbacks to younger, happier days juxtaposed against the present day’s precarious circumstances.
The couple was constantly surrounded by danger, making their quieter moments more precious and satisfying. The amnesia fueled Chris’s pining and longing for Gray, even when they were together the entire time. All these feels made the romance more poignant and impactful than if the two were a new couple.
My favorite supporting character is Chaos, Chris’s training teacher, frenemy, and Dobroslav’s loyal guard. His dry humor and blunt statements had me cracking up. I hope he gets his own book. Would love to see him paired with Nick.
I’ve got to say, wow! Cross was one hell of a ride! The plot was very twisty-turny, heading in directions I never even considered. The writing pulled it off smoothly, in a way where it didn’t feel convoluted despite the many twists, secrets, and reveals.
The mystery and suspense leading to an action-packed climax made for a spectacular finale. The epilogue is another thing that completely took me by surprise. It was a sweet, soul-cleansing experience. The peace was so palpable even I felt the cleansing effect!
Androids don’t dream of electric sheep. They dream of anchors and a slice of paradise.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
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The Formicary: Chrysalis – S.E. Harmon
A gunshot to the head is bad enough. Waking up with amnesia is far worse. I learn that the hard way when I wake up in the hospital, my memory practically wiped. I don’t know why someone wants me dead. Hell, I don’t even know my name. They say my name is Christian Cross. Too bad that name means nothing to me.
I haven’t forgotten everything, though. Grayson Laurie has always been my kryptonite, and it would take more than a bullet to the brain to forget him. He assures me that I’m imagining the distance between us, but I know better. I just don’t know how to fix it. I console myself that at least I’ve reached rock bottom and things can’t get worse…until they do.
My life is a tangled mess of lies and deceit. The more I learn about myself, the less I want to know. I want nothing more than an honest future with Gray, but the past isn’t about to let me go without a fight.
Fortunately, I’m starting to realize that fighting is my specialty.
To paraphrase one of the characters, amnesia is something we mostly see in Days Of Our Lives. I find this trope cheesy because of how it’s overused in soaps. But the blurb of the book immediately piqued my interest.
Chrysalis is the first book of The Formicary duology. Christian Cross wakes up in the hospital with no memory of anything, not even his name. The only thing he remembers is the memory of Dr. Grayson Laurie, his boyfriend. The hospital staff told him he was shot in the head. Gray told Chris, the amnesiac ghosted him four years ago and that the doctor is now in another relationship. To make matters worse, some very dangerous people were after Chris, who had no idea why.
The book follows Chris as he traces clues to his identity, fights off the bad guys and wins back the love of his life. Rather than a rebirth, as the title might suggest, this is a return to an old secret life he kept from Gray.
The story is told from a first-person POV. One thing that stood out is that Chris is prone to unnecessary jokes that are not exactly funny or witty. The writing is fast-paced and tight enough to keep the momentum going, but Chris’ little asides don’t really add anything.
However, there is nothing cheesy with how the amnesia trope was deployed. This is one of the better uses of the trope. It worked exceptionally well with the mystery. It is exactly as the blurb says, and I was completely hooked!
I really enjoyed tagging along with Chris as he stumbles upon the bits and pieces of his old life. There were big hints, like the extra body parts and ninja fighting skills, that helped me suss out who or what Christian is. But even knowing that, the air of intrigue and anticipation remained high until the end. Also, despite his bad jokes, the man is an entertaining narrator.
The second chance romance was also wonderfully executed! There’s some push and pull between the MCs because Gray was hurt, and Christian might disappear again. But Chris’ devotion to Gray was pretty obvious from the start, and it was also clear that Gray still has strong feelings for his ex. Their chemistry jumps off the page! I loved watching them find each other again and again.
Gray’s current boyfriend is a non-entity who soon exited so there’s no cheating here. The book is not a standalone. It ends with a cliffhanger so best to have the second book on hand before starting.
Chrysalis has mystery, action, yeah okay, maybe some humor, a couple of painful separations, and long-overdue reunions. It is about a man looking for answers. It delivers those answers in one suspenseful, gripping package. It’s not the most memorable but it’s certainly worth remembering.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Heaven and Hell Club: Forgotten – Colette Davison
Can he build a future, when he’s forgotten his past?
Jared has fought hard to achieve something close to ‘normal’. Needing to get away from his well meaning but suffocating family, he follows a message he wrote on a scrap of paper to a new city, hoping to find a missing piece of his past.
When Kyrone, a cocky pole dancer at the Heaven and Hell Club, saunters into the tattoo parlour Jared works in, his life is turned upside down again. A passionate one night stand turns into something unexpected for both men. But life is never simple as they work out if they can have a future beyond what has been forgotten.
Forgotten is an MM romance with hurt/comfort, a small age gap, and two men who need to learn to be true to themselves. It is the second book in the Heaven and Hell Club series and, whilst it can be read as a standalone, works better if read after Broken
Imagine waking up one day with no memory of your past. Your family and friends are strangers, your life a complete blank.
That’s what happened to Jared. He was in a car accident and suffered traumatic brain injury that resulted in retrograde amnesia. With his past erased, he had to start life all over again.
If I thought Jag’s book was angsty, Jared’s book was much more intensely emotional. Copious amounts of tears were shed and you got to hand it to Piers Ryman, his voice acting knocked it out of the park. He effectively wrung out all the emotions off every scene.
This was also a book where I felt the pain, literally. As a result of his brain injury, Jared suffers from recurring headaches and migraines. Something I also suffer from and was experiencing while listening to the audiobook. I never felt as in tune with a character as I was with Jared right at that moment.
I loved how strong Jared is. He had the courage to rebuild his life and try to live as normally as he could despite all the hurdles he had to overcome daily. He’s a talented tattoo artist. He’s also very conscious of the fact that he might have hurt other people because he couldn’t be his old self that they wanted him to be or he might have done something wrong in the past that he just couldn’t remember.
Kyrone was exactly the man for Jared. At first, I was kinda meh about him. I mean, who calls himself an adonis, for fuck’s sake? AND tattoos it on his chest! But Kyrone revealed a deeply nurturing side of his personality that endeared himself, the kind who’s ready to drop everything when his boyfriend needs him. And he’s ready to do it anytime, anywhere too. Attaboy!
It’s not all angst and tears. There’s a lot of fluff in this book too. Kyrone wins the award for the best date idea ever for his brilliant ‘let’s play spies’ game. It tops Michael’s indoor picnic/star-gazing date idea from Broken.
And speaking of Michael, him and Jag were in for a surprise at Jared’s appearance. It went down as a catastrophic mess but happily, in the end, poor Jag finally had his closure.
The supporting characters were really great too. There were more page-time for the other dancers of the club. The other characters present were Jared’s kind-hearted boss from the tattoo parlor and his family.
The latter one threw me in for a loop because I was expecting them to be the villainous antagonist. Initial impressions confirmed it to be so until it was slowly revealed they were much more than what they appeared to be.
Forgotten could be read as a standalone but I recommend reading book 1, Broken, to fully appreciate the connection between the characters. And most especially because Colette Davison writes outstanding people. They are what makes me come back to Heaven and Hell Club time and time again. They go through so much and your heart breaks for them. They emerge stronger, happier and their joy resonates with you.
Do read if you like stories featuring cocky tattoos, jumper cuddles and enlightened seagulls.
Thank you to Gay Book Promotions and Audible UK for giving me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Eidolon – E.S. Yu
When Cyrex Corp, one of the foremost bioaugmentation companies in the world, sends Vax to assassinate Zai Lumero, Vax thinks it’ll be a simple, straightforward job. Zai is only a journalist, after all, and with his bioaugments, Vax has never botched a job before. But then the hit unexpectedly goes south, and before Vax can correct his mistake and finish Zai off for good, he discovers that Cyrex has turned on him, putting him in their crosshairs as well.
With no one else to turn to, he strikes a grudging partnership with Zai to help him expose Cyrex’s connection to a missing persons case and take the company down. Getting along with a justice crusader who hates Vax’s profession with a burning passion isn’t easy—though Vax finds himself drawn to Zai in a way he never expected.
As they race against time to unearth Cyrex’s secrets, Vax can’t shake the feeling that Zai is hiding something from him. And the closer he gets to uncovering the answers—of how he’s related to Zai’s investigation, and how Zai is connected to a past that Vax can’t remember—the more he suspects that finding out the truth might destroy him.
The book caught my attention with two magic words: assassin and asexual.
Eidolon is a sci-fi book about an assassin who was hired to kill a journalist investigating the company the assassin is working for. When he tried do his job, he was in for nasty surprise.
Vax, the assassin doesn’t seem to be hard-core and deadly. He seemed more like a harassed salaryman trying to get the job done and get the boss off his back. His boss being Atali Norman, CEO of Cyrex and one hell of a manipulative bastard. When Vax was confronting Atali, I was like, just shoot him already! Don’t talk to him, he will mindfuck you! Vax then proceeded to prove himself human.
Zai, the crusading journalist, is out to uncover the nasty secrets of bioaugmentation companies.I liked that he is very dedicated to his job. Meeting Vax was like meeting a ghost but that doesn’t stop him from involving Vax in doing what he set out to do. There were a LOT of complications, personal and otherwise but Zai was, if anything, determined to do good so he made it work.
I think this should really be two stories. First is the sci-fi dystopian thread where humans were augmented with electronic parts for medical purposes or more insidiously to create super soldiers and spies.
This is a fast read and the writing was easy to go through.
I liked the world building here. It was not bogged down by info-dump but relevant bits and pieces were mentioned here and there that mesh naturally to create a good picture of the futuristic city of Orphis. There was a big mystery and some action scenes. This part by itself makes for an interesting read.
The second part was a hurt-comfort story about a man trying to deal with PTSD, depression and amnesia. This had a more contemporary feel, the futuristic elements were insignificant and barely mentioned. I liked how the mental issue and the asexuality were handled. I felt the friendship more than the romantic spark between Vax and Zai. I think Vax is in dire need of friends right now although their relationship had a good potential to be so much more exciting had the story been solely about second chances and dealing with mental illness.
Overall, I wasn’t blown away but I liked the story. The sci-fi elements were done nicely, the mystery was intriguing enough to hold my attention, the premise was interesting and the prose is uncomplicated. However, the first part and the second part seemed disconnected and I would have preferred two different stories if not a better transition/connection between the sci-fi mystery and the drama part.
I received a copy of Eidolon from Ninestar Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
3 Stars – not exactly setting my world on fire but I liked it