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    REVIEW: The Vicar and the Rake by Annabelle Greene

    The Vicar and the Rake – Annabelle Greene

    Debut author Annabelle Greene brings us the brilliant first book in her Society of Beasts series, in which a quiet country vicar is unwillingly reunited with the duke who left him long ago…

    As a young man, Sir Gabriel Winters left behind his status as a gentleman, turning his back on his secret desires and taking a self-imposed vow of celibacy. Now he’s a chaste, hardworking vicar, and his reputation is beyond reproach. But, try as he might, he’s never forgotten the man he once desired or the pain of being abandoned by his first love.

    Edward Stanhope, the Duke of Caddonfell, is a notorious rake, delighting in scandal no matter the consequence. With a price on his head, he flees to the countryside, forced to keep his presence a secret or risk assassination. When Edward finds Gabriel on his estate, burning with fever, he cannot leave him to die, but taking him in puts them both in jeopardy.

    With the help of a notorious blackmailer, a society of rich and famous gentlemen who prefer gentlemen, and a kitten named Buttons, they might just manage to save Edward’s life—but the greatest threat may be to their hearts.

    I’ve complained that historicals haven’t worked for me since last year, even the usually brilliant K.J. Charles books. 

    The Vicar and the Rake was a random pick and a blind read at that. I was ecstatic that not only did it click, it was a one-sitter and a 5-star!

    I was already deep inside the story when I realized similarities to the classic historical series, Society of Gentleman by K.J. Charles. I totally didn’t mind. If it was an homage, it was a wonderfully done tribute to my favorite gay gents.

    This is the story of two childhood friends, Edward Stanhope and Gabriel Winters. They spent their youthful days on the cusps of secret evolving feelings when Edward ghosted, leaving Gabriel adrift and pining.

    Ten years later, the infamous rake, Edward a.k.a. Scandal, skulks back to his estate with a pugnacious, insolent valet in tow. He’s hiding from the Duke of Sussex, who is hellbent on his demise after he was caught canoodling with the duke’s son. Upon arrival, Edward stumbles upon Gabriel, now a vicar, lying unconscious and feverish in the gardens.

    Edward is the founder of the Society of Beasts, along with his friends Frakes, Hartley, and Lambert. This is an uber-elite, super-secret club for gentlemen who prefer gentlemen. They called themselves Beasts the same way queers have embraced the word that was previously a slur.

    The four friends band together to save Edward and take down the enemy duke, but cracks appear when a traitor is discovered among their ranks. Who?! I wished the other Beasts were introduced sooner so there’s more time to flesh out their personalities.

    I get that most of the plot focused on delicious tension between Edward and Gabriel, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. The two are dorks, Edward most of all. The man is hot/cold, skittish, and desperately wants to be good but fails miserably. Gabriel is heart eyes, stalwart adoration, and pure goodness. It was hallelujahs when Edward finally stopped running!

    However, the best character was Morris, Edward’s formidable and hella scary secret-monger brother. He is the most feared man in London, who knows everyone’s deepest, darkest secrets and rumored to hold even the regent himself by the throat.

    I love Morris so much! You’d think he’d be vile and evil. Sure, he’s cold, blunt, and utterly Machiavellian, but he’s also at his wit’s end trying to save the life of a brother who seemed flagrantly unrepentant about the trouble he caused and is now making more trouble with the vicar as we speak.

    At first, I couldn’t understand why Morris was making that much effort. He always acts like he hates Edward. Later, it was revealed how much Edward sacrificed to protect his little brother from their abusive father during their childhood. I realized, the bond between the brothers will always be unbreakable and true no matter how they act towards each other. For me, this was the most poignant part of the story.

    A delightful female character was introduced in the form of Gabriel’s sister, Caroline, recently widowed. Graceful, proper, and uncannily perceptive, she matched Morris’s wit and strategic genius, subtly nudging his thoughts in unexpected but enlightening points as they hatch their counterattack to Sussex. And this woman is simply divine for bringing out Morris’s endearing human side.

    As all best Regencies go, The Vicar and The Rake is ripe with USTs, shenanigans, danger, mystery, and intrigue. The dialogues are sharp and witty, and listening to this kind of writing when narrated by the great Cornell Collins is pure eargasm! Captivating, twisty turn-y, combustible, and perfectly put together, this is exactly how historical romance should be!

    5 Stars – absolutely perfect

    Soundtrack: Move Me
    Artist: Half Alive
    Album: Conditions of a Punk

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    REVIEW: Real Risk by Elle Keaton

    West Coast Forensics: Real Risk – Elle Keaton

    It’s possible they’re a match but first the two men will have to survive trial by fire.

    Chief Flynn is fighting smoke and flames, tirelessly protecting the lives and property of his fellow islanders from yet another spate of fires.

    Arson or accident?

    When injury puts him on the sidelines, West Coast Forensics Arson Investigator Kimball Frye offers his assistance. Frye is The Most Irritating Man in the World, a condescending know-it-all who rubs Devon the wrong way.

    Or does he?

    Decades ago an arsonist stole his family from him since then Frye has devoted his life to putting them behind bars. At forty-nine, he doesn’t believe in permanent relationships, instead preferring the company of interchangeable younger men.

    Is the arsonist trying to shift the blame onto Devon, or trying to kill him? If it’s the latter it just might work.

    Feeling the pull of attraction to Devon as the firebug grows bolder is inconvenient. Will Kimball listen to his heart or his head? The younger men he’s always preferred are nothing like the solid, stalwart Fire Chief.

    Real Risk is the third in the West Coast Forensics series and can be read as a standalone but may be enjoyed more if you read the Real Trouble and Real Danger first. It is dual POV following Devon Flynn and Kimball Frye as they bicker and fumble their way to their happily ever after.

    After a rather disappointing visit in Book 2, I’ve yet to give up on Piedras Island. We’re back for another stay with Real Risk, the 3rd installment of West Coast Forensics, a series following the private detectives of the firm as they solve crime and find their persons in the little island town.

    My interest was greatly piqued by the case because most mystery novels are about murders, and this one’s about arson. It stars overworked fire chief Devon Flynn and Kimball Frye, the co-owner of WCF. I’ve met these two characters in several of the author’s works, and I’m pleasantly surprise, she paired them.

    Devon is an island native who practically raised his younger sister, Birdy, now the sheriff’s deputy. The siblings are half Lummi. Kimball is a former ATF agent who established WCF with his friend, Leo. His specialty is arson investigations. He tends to date men half his age, something his friends and Devon loves to point out. The two sorta frenemies were forced to work together to solve a series of fires popping all over Piedras.

    There is an enemies-to-lovers, sunshine/grumpy dynamics here. One nice little twist is that the younger man, 40-year-old Devon, is the grumpy one, while 49-year-old Kimball is the sunshiny high-handed one. I wasn’t too keen on how Devon seems to go out of his way to point out Kimball likes to date twinks. I felt he sounded too bitter, sour grape-y, and nosy. Who Kimball dates is none of his business.

    That aside, the romance was wonderfully slow-burn. Devon and Kimball’s chemistry worked fabulously! I loved that they are two mature men set in ways who found their equal. Two guys declaring they’re not into relationships finding the other worthy enough to try. I want to see more of them in future books. And more mature couples, please. I’m tired of men over 40 always pigeon-holed in age-gap romances.

    But I was really more interested in the case. I always found the WCF investigations fun because they take us around Piedras Island. The island is part of the real-life San Juan archipelago in the Pacific Northwest.

    The mystery itself had no big surprises because the bad guys are a given. I would have also preferred a more nitty gritty approach to the investigation. The case was suddenly solved just like that. Also, Devon’s plan was too hare brain a scheme to actually work.

    Although, I liked how this case connects to the events in the previous books. They even go way back to those in the Veiled Intentions series and Elle Keaton‘s other books. So it’s best to read WCF books in order for maximum enjoyment.

    Even with the less than solid mystery, Real Risk is an enjoyable addition to WCF. I love tagging along with the detectives, feeling the pulse of small-town life that’s so different yet similar to my small town, catching up with old characters, and meeting new ones. Characters who feel like old friends you always want to stay in touch with. These are why I always go back to Piedras Island.

    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: Fire In The Horizon
    Artist: Stick Figure
    Album: Set In Stone

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