Fire and Valor: The Prince’s Dragon – W.M. Fawkes & Sam Burns
The last place Lord Tristram Radcliffe ever expected to find himself was right hand to the Llangardian throne. His parentage should have seen him banished, but he managed to keep his draconic secret. Now, King Reynold is dead. Long live King Roland.
The boy ascends to rule a kingdom in chaos, and Tristram must undo the damage of the last king’s reign to save his people from lean winter and wolves in the palace itself. Reynold’s former shadow, Bet Kyston, is determined to root out King Roland’s enemies, but his version of help may cause as much harm as good.
There remains a traitor near to the throne, and when the king falls mysteriously ill, Tristram’s strongest ally is forced to leave court. As his enemies move closer, the strength of Tristram’s regency is more precarious than ever. Abandoned and friendless, Tristram must sacrifice everything to protect his homeland or risk not only Roland’s life, but his own.
The story picks up immediately after the events of The King’s Dragon. The new king, Roland, was poisoned and now lies in his sick bed. The Regent, Lord Tristram Radcliff, with help from his lover, Bet Kyston, does his best to balance court duties and going toe to toe with traitorous Cavendish relatives hungry for power.
Meanwhile dragons are attacking dragons and holding captives. Among those captured was the young dragon Hafgan. The summer clan suffered severe losses, and are moving south to somewhere near the court. (I have no idea how to spell the names of places since I’m audiobooking this so I will not attempt)
The book is still in multiple POVs, with new ones introduced. Now that I am familiar with the Fire and Valor world, the shift in POVs didn’t hinder anymore. I was able to focus more on the narrative and enjoy the tale as it unfolds.
This time, the different POVs worked better at giving us the bigger picture and a more detailed look at the world, especially outside the court, connecting different faraway characters.
Lord Regent Tristam Radcliff – not interested in the throne, never will be now that he knows first hand what a headache it is to run a kingdom. But as the only person King Roland trusts to be his proxy, Tris takes his duties to heart and will defend king and Llandgard, and a certain half-elf, to death. His big scene in the ending was BAM!
Bet Kyston – ninja elf, a.k.a. assassin, a.k.a. king’s shadow, became my favorite character here. I felt sorry for how he was abandoned by his mother. I loved how his character grew. Bet has no problems sticking a knife to whoever hurt the boy king, legalities be damned. That he loves sticking things in the lord regent, is an ongoing bet in knightly circles.
Rhiannon – currently healing in the special pool in the monastery. The fierce dragon is surprisingly shy, or is it vain, to show herself to Sidone while she’s recuperating. Struck a bargain with Princess Gillian while there. I’d love to see Rhiannon in battle once more.
Sir Sidone – this knight stuck with her lady through thick and thin. Not much going on with her in this installment, but I’d love to see her in action in the future astride her dragon because that would be so cool!
Bowen – a grizzled old stone dragon forced to sell his fellow dragons to slavery. That his hoard is pretty delicate flowers might be a sign that his tough exterior hides a marshmallow heart.
Hafgan – our sweet sunshine dragon who might just win the heart of an old warrior like Bowen.
Lady Elinor – Tris’s beloved mom is in for a surprise reunion with a long lost love, who is a mild-mannered bookworm, or should I say, bookdragon.
Princess Gillian – learned more magic and found romance outside the castle walls. I’m counting on her for spectacular displays of magic. It’s unfortunate that the plot is about lost magic so there’s barely any spells here. Gillian on the tower protecting the city is the most we got.
Maddox – was pretty surly at first, but this summer dragon turned out to be a great love interest for the princess. His internal thoughts, a.k.a. grudges with Tristram, whom he has yet to meet, were amusing. Turns out they got along splendidly.
Dragon – a cinnamon roll dragon in captivity. Rescue this sweet little soul now!
This series gets better with each installment. The pace here is faster, the tension is tighter, and overall, more dynamic as new secrets are revealed and various groups are in motion, either as enemies, fugitives or rescuers.
Woven through the already potent mix of court politics and dragon action are the romantic threads that give us more things to get hooked on. And there’s something for everyone. The main couple are Tristram and Bet, and their romance is giving me LIFE! Rhiannon and Sidone took theirs to another level. Gillian and Maddox are fantastic together after their initial antagonistic encounter.
Overall, Fire and Valor hit its stride with The Prince’s Dragon. It had me in its grip from beginning to end. The intrigue, the romance, the adventure, this is more than just slow burn magic. This is a thrilling dragon ride!
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
Fire and Valor should be read in order. Witness royals come and go, and dragons in and out of scales in The King’s Dragon.
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Fire and Valor: The King’s Dragon – W.M Fawkes & Sam Burns
Lord Tristram Radcliffe has a secret—he is the only dragon at the king’s court in Llangard. It’s a secret he’s kept from the knights he’s fought beside, from the ladies who bat their lashes at him, and from his closest companion, Prince Reynold. If it were to get out, he’d be banished to the Mawrcraig Mountains along with the rest of his kind, but the kingdom of men is the only one he’s ever known, and his heart lives in the stone halls of those who’d count him an enemy.
When the old king dies and Prince Reynold takes the throne, two visitors from the north throw Tristram into the middle of the ancient conflict between dragons and men. They put him on a collision course with the king’s shadow, Bet Kyston, a dangerous assassin who may want him dead or may want more of Tristram that he’d ever thought to give.
With the eyes of dragons upon him and a threat from the north creeping toward the home he loves, Tristram must weigh his allegiances before his dual legacies tear him apart.
As a lazy reader, high fantasy books are challenging for me, particularly the world-building. I am not keen on reading info-dumps about grimy taverns, the default euro-centric medieval settings, nor am I impressed with knights in their clunky tin can armors. The magic, though, is always fun!
So it was no surprise that I struggled with The King’s Dragon, Book 1 of Fire and Valor by writer duo W.M. Fawkes and Sam Burns. But then, the book slowly but surely entangled me in its gripping plot, awesome characters, and daring rescue missions.
The plot is a very intriguing blend of kingdom politics, lost magic, family drama, and, of course, dragons! A dead king just buried, a new king celebrating in a kingdom once filled with magic, but now, the only royal magician and sister to the king, Princess Gillian, can barely perform a spell.
It’s a particularly precarious situation for the kingdom of Llandgard, whose enemies from the north might be making a move. These enemies are stopped only by the dragons in the mountains, the dragons who once enslaved humans, the dragons the king and his people reviled and banished through magic. Unknown to them, dragons are currently in their midst during the celebrations.
The story is paced too slow for me. It is in multiple POVs, a whomping seven on my count. It took a while for me to get the lay of the land. I got whiplash, shifting from one POV to another, never knowing which character you’ll get next. This further slowed the narrative for me.
So it’s lucky that the authors picked the perfect narrators for their series because they kept me engaged. Greg Boudreaux is always a pleasure to listen to, and new-to-me narrator Lessa Lamb played the enchanting females perfectly with her Disney princess voices.
Another plus, is that the world-building didn’t drag or info-dumped too much. It is a medieval Euro-centric setting with none of the religious fanaticism, with equal opportunities for anyone, and lots of queer characters.
Halfway, I became fully invested. Everything slowly came together. The pace finally picked up as the thrilling buildup set several things in motion all at once, leading to the explosive climatic scene. I loved how the ending resolved things satisfyingly while also dropping me off a cliff so suddenly I was left with my mouth hanging open.
This series has an ensemble cast and they each stand out.
Lord Tristram Radcliffe – knight and cousin to King Reynold. Rumored to be a bastard, secretly a half-dragon, hoards pointy objects, notices the king’s shadow, Bet, far too much for his liking. Righteous, loyal and conscientious especially about his duty to Llandgard. Basically Captain America, knight version.
Bennet Kyston – an open secret known as the king’s shadow a.k.a. assassin a.k.a. doer of dirty deeds. Agile, deadly, and loyal to King Reynold who gave him a home. Secretly crushes hard on Tristram but knowing he’s too low-born for such noble knight, could only look and not touch.
King Reynold – the new king celebrating the start of his reign with a party and tournament. Seemed okay at the start but later was acting a little too paranoid and cruel for anyone’s liking. A hint was thrown casually as to why this is that will be picked up in later installments.
Sir Sidonie – a high-ranking knight in the king’s guard, she was from a peasant family but rose in ranks through skills and hard-work. A friend to Tristram and just as loyal to the king, she couldn’t help noticing the new Lady Rhiannon who’s lavishing her considerable charms on the king
Lady Rhiannon – a lady on a mission and a dragon with a plan. She came to court with her foster son, Hafgan, to change the king’s mind about dragons. She might flirt with the king, but a certain female knight is more to her taste.
Princess Gillian – sister to the new king and the only Cavendish left with magic. She has no interest in the throne and Reynold crowned gave her freedom. She is Tris’s friend and one of the few who knew his secret. The tumultuous court events led her outside the castle walls and I am excited to see where her adventures take her.
Hafgan – a young dragon whose entire clan was wiped out. Rhiannon found his egg and claimed him as her own ever since. Didn’t play too much role in the story but I expect bigger things from him in the following books.
Prince Roland – the nine year old heir to the king who barely bothers with his son. Frequently overlooked and underestimated, Roland plays his cards close to his sleeves and has some surprises of his own that might shock his father. He considers Tristram and Bet as the only people in court who acknowledges him as a person.
I always say this, it’s a testament to the authors’ characterization that I could name their side characters. The main couple here is Tristram and Bet. These two played their intense enemies-to-lovers game so deliciously! Usually, they would be all I care about, but I remember the supporting cast quite well.
Rhiannon and Sidonie’s romance blossomed parallel to the main romance. These two were a breath of fresh air in the dank atmosphere of royal madness and paranoia. They have the most bombastic escape scene! Hoping for more of these badass women in the next books.
The King’s Dragon deftly wove multiple POVs, twist and turns, secrets and lies, magic and dragons, knights and assassins, and a royal family fighting for their legacy and future. It’s slow-burn magic from two skilled authors. Before I knew it, I went from meh to HELL YEAH!
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Galactic Alliance by K.C. Burn is an oldie but goldie sci-fi romance series about intergalactic love affairs with far-reaching consequences. Published in 2011, three interconnected books can be read as standalone but better experienced by reading them in order.
It’s too bad that the series is short. The stories are pretty enjoyable. The way the world-building is conceived and with many intriguing side characters, the potential for more books are endless.
I’ll be reviewing the first two books.
Galactic Alliance: Spice n’ Solace – K.C. Burn
Every year, Jathan One-Moon faces increasing pressure that he marry and have children. What Jathan really wants is a male mate that can enjoy both playful sex and his more dominant nature. To tame his stress, Jathan orders a male escort from Spice ‘n’ Solace, the premier male brothel in the Galactic Alliance–and is thrilled to be sent a man whose air of innocence and obvious desire for Jathan arouse him like never before.
Jathan doesn’t know he has mistaken Kazha Deinos, the owner of Spice ‘n’ Solace, as his escort. Kaz doesn’t intend to pleasure Jathan personally, but his powerful masculinity is irresistible. Kaz has dreamed of a man who’d take charge and indulge his hidden cravings–a man just like Jathan.
With their explosive passion and unexpected tenderness, Jathan and Kaz soon want to stay together–if Jathan’s position and Kaz’s secrets don’t tear them apart…
Spice ‘n’ Solace opens the series in Elora Ki, a frontier planet hosting the most important event in the galaxy, the yearly negotiations between the Ankylos Empire and the Galactic Alliance. The Empire and the Alliance have previously been at war, and the most important human in all the galaxy, Jathan One-Moon, is tasked to negotiate on behalf of humans and prevent another war at all costs.
With the fate of humanity on his shoulders, Jathan’s only stress reliever is the submissive rent boys from the top brothel of the planet, Spice ‘n’ Solace. However, brothel owner Kazha Deinos encountered problems with supply and so went to Jathan’s headquarters to talk to him about it. Neither had met before, but the moment they did, BAM! Pants flew off!
This employs the mistaken identity trope to steamy results. But this is not just about dominance and popping butt cherries. It also deals with brothel business woes, homophobic friends, sneaky competitors, familial pressures to produce an heir and how Kaz’s presence in Jathan’s life is affecting the tense negotiations.
The plot is straightforward. The lust was so intense and insta it zinged. The romantic development was equally lightning-fast but executed satisfyingly. These are the best parts and offset the many things glossed over. The negotiations itself barely had page time, the ending was rushed, and how people can still be homophobic at a time where you can fuck all manner of alien lifeforms is beyond me.
Jathan’s a great character. Son of a famous war general, a man of his word and a considerate dom, he’s the perfect match for Kaz. But my favorite character in the entire series will always be Kaz! He appears down-trodden most of the time. The man is too hard on himself and doesn’t seem to recognize his value but he’s actually a very savvy businessman.
Kaz created a certain mystique about him whether he intended to or not. I liked how everyone knows his name but couldn’t put a face to it. The only people who do recognized him are the high-ranking members of society who patronized his business. So, of course, he knows all their dirty secrets. It’s like this guy is sitting on a goldmine of information. Imagine what he can do with all that power!
Sadly, this was not the focus here but I would loved to read a story about something like that. I did get a thrill when Kaz put a scheming politician in his place with his dirty secret when the man was pressuring Jathan. Overall, Spice ‘n’ Solace is engrossing, gritty, sizzling, and sometimes cute.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Galactic Alliance: Alien n’ Outlaw – K.C. Burn
R’kos, son of the Ankylos Emperor, is expected to settle down. But he’s much more attracted to human males than to his own species. Eager to explore his forbidden longings, he steals a ship and heads to Elora Ki to see if he can find the right human guy.
Darien robs the corrupt to give to those in need, but now he needs a ride off Elora Ki, stat. Pursued by drug lords, he accepts help from the amorous stranger who calls himself Ricky. As they fly together along Darien’s route, their friendship quickly turns into passion.
But when Ricky is injured, Darien must contact the embassy to get his alien lover the medical care he needs. As Darien finds himself accused of kidnapping, and Ricky fears his family’s disappointment, can the two protect their growing relationship? Or are their differences just too great?
Alien ‘n’ Outlaw stars R’kos, one of the many princes of the Ankylos Empire. This year, it’s his turn to be the negotiator. He’s hanging at an Elora Ki bar incognito, looking for a human hookup, when he saw Darien. Liking how the man smelled, R’kos followed the man out to the back. It became apparent Darien was on the run, and R’kos decided then and there to help him.
R’kos’s species are a hive-minded people who mate in triads, usually a female and two males. They are lavender-skinned, some have horns, have keen sense of smell, but with light-sensitive eyes. As a prince, R’kos’s three parents already arranged who he will marry.
R’kos is different in that he prefers to be alone, and he’s attracted to males only, specifically human males. How would the Ankylos Empire react to such a union? Not to mention, another catastrophic war might erupt should the prince’s affair with a human go sour.
R’kos is more familiar with humans because of the negotiations. Darien was a complete fish out of water among R’kos’s people. I loved how these two are all about patience, trust and open communication. R’kos and Darien’s romance is gentle yet passionate. They navigate their similarities and differences and made it work.
The plot is a road trip across the galaxy, visiting cult-dominated planets, doing some Robin Hood side hustle, fighting off space pirates and meeting R’kos’s sprawling family. The most fun part is witnessing Darien’s culture shock at how spectacularly oblivious the Ankylos are to the concept of privacy. From throuples blithely having sex in corridors to open space unisex lavatories where your business is everyone’s business, Darien was gob smacked and just a liiiittle bit scared.
With a suspenseful space fight, much-appreciated cameos from Jathan and his crew, and a happy reunion, the ending was much better than the first book. While I didn’t enjoy the visit to the cult, the story as a whole was highly entertaining. Overall, Alien ‘n’ Outlaw is a thrilling space adventure, an eye-opening cultural experience, and an endearing alien romance.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Fool’s Gold – Ki Brightly & M.D. Gregory
The Bad Boy from the Trailer Park
There are certain unwritten rules in the Lakeview Trailer Park, and number five is clear—No Gay Stuff.
Ethan “Shep” Shepherd has grown up hiding his true self so he doesn’t get kicked out of the only home he knows, but that doesn’t mean he can’t dream of a better life with the beautiful man who lives across the river. As a criminal, Ethan knows Jonas is too good for him, but when another one of the trailer park guys decides to attack Jonas, Ethan steps in and changes the course of their lives.
The Good Boy from the Religious Family
Jonas Nomikos is trying to survive his parents and their conservative views until he gets to college, where he can finally be himself. It isn’t an easy task to pretend to be the son they want, and when his best friend tells the truth to Jonas’s parents, he’s sure his life is over. Until Ethan. Ethan gives him hope and makes him smile, and Jonas wants to be with him, even if it means saying goodbye to the only life he knows.
The Road to Being Who They Are
If Ethan and Jonas want to be together, they’ll need to make sacrifices. The journey to happiness is filled with surprises, and Ethan isn’t sure Jonas is ready to accept the reality of his life—which includes motorcycle clubs, breaking the law, and living payday to payday. Jonas might shock him, though.
Fool’s Gold has a theme of overcoming prejudice and contains depictions of homophobia and discrimination, including scenes in a conversion camp. The authors do not condone homophobic behavior or discrimination of any kind.
New Gothenburg is a sprawling New York-based universe created by writer duo Ki Brightly and M.D. Gregory. It spans a multitude of interconnected, though frequently standalone, books and series usually involving motorcycle clubs, mobsters, sex workers, and even lawyers and law enforcement officers.
I have this vague urge to read all of them, but it’s a hit or miss. Many times, I am more enamored with the premise as the actual book left much to be desired. Then, there are times I struck gold.
Fool’s Gold is one of those that panned out. And fabulously at that! This is also a standalone.
It’s a new adult tale of the boy from the wrong side of tracks crushing on the boy on the right side. Ethan ‘Shep’ Shephard is a trailer park bad boy who rescued Jonas Nomikos from a thug. And that was how Ethan finally spent some time with his crush, whom he has been making heart eyes for years from across the river.
Jonas is from an ultra-conservative Methodist family, his father the pastor. A friend outing him to his parents had him sent to a conversion therapy camp. And it sparked a series of events that led him and Ethan to crime, violence and unlikely allies.
First, I really loved the YA-ish vibe of the book. It felt like I was reading a cute manga about high school boys and adorably awkward first love moments. The fluff is tempered by the more somber scenes of homophobic people doling out the don’ts and the cannot’s. Ethan and Jonas’s relationship is forbidden on both sides of the river.
Second, the Good Omens dynamic never fails to make me swoon! Who doesn’t squee at bad boys who hate the world being soft for no one but their angelic boyfriends! Ethan is crazy about his angel and has no qualms giving anyone who hurt his Jonas their just desserts. Well, the bad guy got served his, and I was surprised, Jonas didn’t make much fuss given who it is and how it was given.
Third, the duo’s writing was particularly effective here. Most of their books have BDSM-ish or daddy/boy relationships, and while I loved some of them, the rest are repetitive and cringey. Here, the relationship is between two older teens. The plot moved steadily, and there were no lulls at all. I loved the anticipation whenever Ethan and Jonas are about to meet or when Jonas did something unexpected.
The darker second half was a suspenseful hunt for the missing Jonas, a fateful meeting with the notorious motorcycle club, Kings of Men, and a tender night of firsts. It was action-packed, exhilarating, and sweet, a roller-coaster of feels!
Ethan being uber protective of Jonas and giving the big bad bikers attitude was endearing and amusing the way a puppy might snarl. Thing is, puppies are cute, yet their bite has more rabies. Ethan gathering an army and storming enemy camp was complete badass! Jonas riding in his sidecar is adorbs! This angel is not meant for the bitch seat.
The only reason why this is not a 5-star read is because of one glaring error. There was a scene where Ethan and Jonas were chased by a rival biker, and Jonas dropped his cellphone. It was even mentioned it cracked or broke. Then some time after, they were chased by more bikers, and Jonas was magically trying to call the police using his phone. There were no mentions that he picked up his dropped phone beforehand.
Fool’s Gold is a thrill ride, a swoony romance, and a blushy BL manga. It’s a story of forbidden love and a coming-of-age tale of two teenagers caught in a world of bad bikers and worse pastors. This has some dark moments, so heed the trigger warnings. All in all, genuinely brilliant!
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
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Kage Trilogy – Maris Black
*** KAGE (Book 1)
My name is Jamie Atwood, and I’m an addict. I never thought I’d say such a thing. Never had a problem being overly-attached to anything in my life. I came from a perfectly middle-class family, made good grades, and had a hot cheerleader girlfriend… but the truth is, nothing ever really moved me. So how did a guy like me become an addict?
I met Michael Kage.
Kage is an MMA fighter. A famous one. I like to think I helped him get that way.
He’s charming as hell, with looks to rival any movie star and talent to back it up. So why did he need to hire me as an intern Publicist? Simple. He has a darkness in him– like a black hole so deep it could swallow him, and me, and everyone we know– and that’s not good for business.
The first time I met him, I felt the pull. I think the addiction began at that very moment. And even if I’d known then what I know now, I would have fallen for him. How could I not?
For me, Kage is everything.
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
*** KAGE UNLEASHED (Book 2)
In a battle of the heart, who will be the first to submit?
My name is Jamie Atwood, and I am an idiot. Against all odds, I got the attention of Michael Kage, the hottest MMA fighter on the planet. To say he rocked my world would be an understatement. He transformed me completely, made me depend on him, and made me love him. And the sex? Let me put it this way: I’d never been with a guy before I met Kage, but I’d gladly spend the rest of my life on my knees for him. He is my obsession and my addiction. But I did something stupid, and now I’m paying for it. I don’t know if I’ll ever see Kage again.
Being Michael Kage was never easy. Too many demons, too much anger, and not enough to live for. And then I met Jamie Atwood. He’s got this innocence about him that speaks to something deep down inside me- in a place that’s never been touched by anyone. He’s beautiful, smart, and courageous, and he hasn’t been tainted by the darkness that’s ruled my life. I wanted him from the first second I laid eyes on him. It’s selfish, I know. Because you can’t bring an innocent thing into the darkness and not expect something to rub off.
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
*** KAGE UNMASKED (Book 3)
CAN THEIR LOVE SURVIVE THE MOST SHOCKING REVELATION?
SEXY COLLEGE SENIOR Jamie Atwood has fallen hard for MMA dark horse Michael “the Machine” Kage. With his hot muscled body, intoxicating green eyes, and proclivity for rough sex, Kage is a potent aphrodisiac to the innocent boy-next-door. The danger, the intrigue, the feel of his strong hand around his throat, the knowledge that his fighter would kill or die for him. From the moment Kage grabbed onto his hips and channeled all that masculine aggression into claiming his body, Jamie was ruined for anyone else.
PASSIONS RUN HIGH as the lovers try to assimilate into each other’s lives: coming out to family and friends, blending into the high-profile MMA world, dealing with Kage’s sketchy uncle. But behind Kage’s mask of strength and indifference lies a crippling vulnerability, and a devastating secret. As the mask comes off, past traumas surface, dark desires spin out of control, and the damaged fighter is driven to hurt the man he loves more than life itself.
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
Kage Trilogy by Maris Black is an intense, angsty, frustrating, compelling, and hella swoony sports romance between an MMA fighter and his publicist.
Journalism major and college senior Jamie Atwood scored a summer internship as upcoming MMA fighter Michael ‘The Machine’ Kage’s publicist. This after the dork blustered his way through his first interview with Kage. The man was so impressed (and smittened) that he demanded the college boy work for him. Thing is, Jamie is straight and has a girlfriend.
Did it stop Kage? Hell no!
Meanwhile, Jamie couldn’t help but be magnetized by enigmatic Kage. And I couldn’t blame the boy because, damn, the man has quite the presence!
I came into this series blind. The first two books end in cliffhangers, so the trilogy must be read in order. Kage, book 1, is written solely in Jamie’s POV. We see a bumbling, naive college student playing the sports publicist, pretending to know what he’s doing and boldly declaring he’s going to make Michael Kage famous.
In fairness to Jamie, our boy did work hard, building a website, social media presence, and Kage’s image as a sexy MMA fighter. Multi-tasking as the photographer, some of his picture-taking sessions has Kage in temperature-raising poses that led to our boy questioning (and lowkey denying) his sexuality.
Jamie could be spectacularly oblivious to the fact that Kage was doing a slow but thorough wooing. Kage was obsessed from that first interview and proceeded to wine, dine, and splurge, but our boy remained clueless (or in denial). And it wasn’t until, a very provocative pose and Kage spelling it out for him that our boy fell on his knees and willingly swallowed the truth, among other things.
Kage Unleashed and Kage Unmasked are written in both Kage’s and Jamie’s POVs. The two sequels chronicle Kage and Jamie’s struggles as a secret gay couple and how they navigate publicly coming out while they introduce Kage to Jamie’s family and try to outmaneuver Kage’s evil uncle.
There are scenes that might be disturbing to some, like the dubcon-ish scene in the gazebo or that minors were forced to fight to the death. Kage also has PTSD and childhood trauma cause by his abusive uncle.
When I say frustrating, I’m mostly talking about Jamie and the villain, Peter Santori. Jamie is impulsive and makes stupid decisions. I could forgive him. He’s young and still has lots to learn.
Kage and Jamie’s relationship is tested by misunderstandings and miscommunications made worse by separations caused by Kage’s uncle’s evil schemes. This asshole is mostly absent, but his presence and machinations can be felt through their negative impact on Kage and/or Jamie. He’s a psychopath who uses Kage to further his own goals and has no qualms attempting to kill his nephew when he proved too much trouble.
Kage the man is why Kage the trilogy packed a punch. The Machine is highly skilled, unbeatable and hyper-focused on his targets, whether it be winning Jamie or the MMA championship belt. Life threw one challenge after another, first losing his family as a young child, then living under his evil uncle’s thumb and forced to toe the line by pretending to be in a relationship with a woman.
Kage still managed to come out on top, fighting for his and Jamie’s lives. And there is always a fight and a separation. Then Kage getting Jamie back through sheer willpower and two middle fingers to the world and his uncle. Arrow right in my kokoro every time!
Here’s a little spoiler why Kage is everything. Whenever I read somebody’s reaction to a book saying, “I’m a sobbing mess,” I tend to roll my eyes at such hyperbole. Well, there was this scene where Jamie and Kage were forcibly separated and had no contact for some time (evil uncle in action). Jamie convinced his friends to watch Kage’s fight on TV because he missed his boyfriend badly.
Jamie was bragging he helped choose Kage’s entrance song, Kanye West’s I Am A God. But when Kage entered, Jamie was surprised it was a different song playing. His friend googled the song and showed him the title: Teleport 2 Me, Jamie.
You guessed it, I was a sobbing mess! Songs are my krytonite and Kage just had to pick the perfect song!
Kage Trilogy ends with a HFN, a cliffhanger really. I’m glad I read it now and not when it was first released because now I know the story continues with Santori Trilogy. Kage and Jamie aren’t perfect, but with the distinct honor of being the third book to make me cry in all my reading life, I’m giving them 5 stars. These boys hit me with a knock out punch!
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KAGE TRILOGY: Boxset
Evolved – N.R. Walker
In 2068, androids are an integrated part of human life. Big Brother no longer just watches from the shadows. It’s in every household.
Lloyd Salter has OCD issues with noise and mess, and he’s uncomfortable with human interaction. When his ex claimed the only thing perfect enough to live up to his standards was an android, Lloyd dismissed it. But two years later, after much self-assessment, he thinks he may have been right.
SATinc is the largest manufacturer of androids in Australia, including the Fully Compatible Units known as an A-Class 10. Their latest design is the Synthetic Human Android UNit, otherwise known as SHAUN.
Shaun is compatible to Lloyd’s every need; the perfect fit on an intellectual and physical basis. But Lloyd soon realises Shaun’s not like other A-Class androids. He learns. He adapts. Sure that SATinc is aware Shaun functions outside of his programmed parameters, Lloyd must find a way to keep Shaun safe.
This is the second time I try reading Evolved. The first time was in 2018, when it was first released. I struggled so much with the book that I DNF’ed. I still have the draft of my initial thoughts on it and already have a song for it. The review was pretty negative, and since I didn’t finish reading, I didn’t post it.
I thought I try my luck again, and this time, I was determined to see it through. I would like to say second time’s the charm, but no. It was still a struggle. Though I could see the good parts, and they made it worth it.
First, the plot is pretty standard for human/android romances.
Philosophy professor and perpetual loner Lloyd Salter purchased a Class A Companion Android, Shaun, from SATInc. Shaun was programmed to be fully compatible with Lloyd’s personality and sexual preferences. Class A Androids are the most human-like of all the android classes, but Lloyd was starting to notice Shaun is evolving far beyond his Class A capabilities.
My first reaction to this is, gay Absolute Boyfriend, anyone? Technosexual romances, or even just the usual sci fi story, almost always feature androids evolving or acting as human-like as possible. My Star Trek crush, Data, being an early example.
I got pretty bored with how most of the plot revolves around Shaun’s androidness. It felt a lot like how older MM romances frequently revolved around the person’s sexuality. Maybe because I’ve seen it done a million times already, I would have preferred Lloyd be a bit cynical rather than being too star-struck by Shaun.
Which brings us to the main character. The story is in Lloyd’s first person POV. This was a tough hurdle for me because I don’t like Lloyd at all. I don’t actively hate him. It’s just if we were boyfriends or roommates, we’ll probably end up killing each other. We’re the same and opposites in all the wrong ways.
Lloyd has OCD and mysophobia. He is socially awkward and has only one friend. I could sympathize as a fellow loner, but I don’t like Lloyd’s sterile version of perfection. I want to introduce him to kintsugi so he could appreciate how flaws can make something perfect in an interesting way. He’d probably hate the discordant beauty of punk while I revel in it.
And just like him, my lack of social skills and the scarcity of people who can tolerate my difficult personality, I wouldn’t be surprise if I settle for an android companion in the future.
However, N.R. Walker is a master of her craft. The storytelling was engaging, the prose written in a way that makes it easy to read, even through some challenging scenes. The sci fi elements were well-conceived, and if Shaun got too technical in his droid-speak, it’s quickly translated into more understandable terminologies.
At the heart of it all is the romance. And this is where the book outdid itself. Even with my dislike of Lloyd and even knowing Shaun is built to be the man of his dreams, the chemistry was still palpable, the romance sweet, and their connection soul-deep.
Shaun was so charming he made Lloyd a hell of a lot more tolerable. I wished really hard that the story is written in his POV. It would be interesting to see Lloyd from a different perspective.
Because say what I will about Lloyd, but the man has the kindest heart. The reason I don’t hate him entirely is because he treats Shaun with the utmost respect. I loved that he acknowledge his personhood because artificial though he is, Shaun can think, reason, learn, joke, and feel.
The plot significantly picked up once Lloyd started worrying about Big Brother, a.k.a. SATinc, watching him. Things became more dynamic, and we see Lloyd’s friend, Jay, playing a key role. I really enjoyed this part because we see Lloyd and Shaun interacting with the outside world, and Shaun was having the time of his life. And charming people because this android is a ray of sunshine!
Evolved is a mixed bag for me. The plot might be factory-settings basic and the MC is an acquired taste, but it is a story powered by a lot of heart. And that’s all that matters!
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
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Morelli Family: Beloved By The Boss – Leighton Greene
M/M Mafia Romance
It’s good to be the Boss. That’s what I thought my whole life.
Now I am the Boss. I’ll shoulder that responsibility with my beloved husband beside me. As long as I have Finch, I can handle whatever life throws at me.
But what they say is true: Be careful what you wish for.
My Family has been decimated. My allies are few. I’m holding onto power by a thread.
And the truth is, my husband is more vulnerable than ever. He’s always been a lost soul, and now he’s suffered yet another crushing loss.
I can’t protect him from Fate’s cruel blows. But I’m determined to protect him from our enemies, no matter what it takes—as soon as I get my own house in order.
Because I’m starting to wonder if there’s a traitor in the Morelli Family…
If I can’t even trust my own men, how can I keep my beloved safe?
Beloved by the Boss is the sequel to Married to the Mobster, and is the second book in the Morelli Family Mafia Romance series.
Married To The Mobster, Book 1 of the series, was released in 2020, and since then, I’ve been waiting for the audiobooks. It wasn’t until last year that the author announced none other than the great Michael Ferraiuolo would be narrating, and I was ecstatic because his style suits the characters to a T!
And it was a spot-on performance for Beloved by the Boss!
In the first book, Luca was forced to marry Finch to save the young man’s life. Unknown to the mobster who forced the marriage, the two had a meet disaster that ended in a magical night and a separation of 5 years. Majority of the book, we see Luca putting Finch at arms length despite obviously worshipping the ground he walks on.
Beloved by the Boss takes a 180-degree turn. Luca, now smarter and with his priorities straight, is the new Don Morelli struggling to gain the respect of his capos and other families. Finch is the center of his universe, and the two have Friday date nights and open communication. Luca is committed to putting Finch first, consequences be damned! And boy, were there consequences!
The Commission, an organization overseeing all the Families, is calling Luca to explain Don Augustino Morelli’s death, along with the death of a made man from the rival Fuscone Family. The Morellis also had to find out who is snitching on them to the Fuscones. As if there’s not enough on their plate, the Donovans’, the Irish mob headed by Finch’s sister Maggie, appears to be working with their rival family.
What I remembered most about Finch is that he is a fun character. He’s a sassy twink and a spoiled rich kid who “wilted like a lettuce left out the fridge” when he was forced to slum it (at that time, Luca was just a regular mafioso and wasn’t rich yet). Now, he’s still sassy and spoiled, and uses his considerable smarts as the unofficial consigliere.
And because the humor was what I remembered most, I forgot how gritty this series could be. The story is told in dual POV. Luca’s POV showed his struggles as the new Morelli boss dealing with one major loss after another. Finch’s POV is all fun and games until the twists and turns slammed in! It was betrayal and death at every turn!
It’s heart-breaking because most of the deaths and betrayals are connected to him directly and they hit him hard! Finch wasn’t just there to make saucy comments. He was also a grieving son, a reformed drug addict, a vulnerable target, and a mob boss’s husband trying to roll with the punches life and mobsters threw at him.
Luca and Finch don’t know who to trust, not even those related by blood. I loved how the two went from strength to strength, working as a team because
“When you want something done right–”
“Do it with your husband,” I finished for him.
Their romance is still as sizzling as ever, the chemistry even better now that Luca reveals an unexpectedly poetic side with his swoony lines. And it tickles me pink every time I hear him call Finch “baby bird” or “angel.”
And it’s not just the chemistry. I also loved how they grew as a couple and as individuals. The scene where Luca surprised Finch at the wake spoke volumes about how well they knew each other and how far Luca will go just to be there when Finch needed him.
I love reading about mafia politics and it was fascinating to see the Commission in action or the divide between the west and east coast families. The writing struck a good balance between humorous and dark, and between the action, romance, and suspense.
The supporting cast stood out as well. Frankie and Celia have always been there, so I hope to see them in future books despite what happened (It was tragic and bittersweet). I’m excited for Angelo’s book and Aiden’s, too. One casualty gutted me because he was such great character, and I’m sorry we won’t be seeing him again.
Beloved by the Boss is a compelling story of two men deeply entangled in marriage and the mafia. It is an almost perfect sequel to an entertaining mafia romance. I took away half star because it went on a bit too long. Overall, emotional, thrilling, and hella swoony!
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
Also, the book models are perfect as blue-eyed devil Luca and golden-haired Finch!
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This is a round up of the books I read on the 2nd half of this year that I’m too lazy to do a full review.
Vitale Brothers: Say I Do – Brea Alepou & Skyler Snow
What do you get when you mix a mobster with the son of the yakuza?
A marriage bathed in blood.
I never expected to be getting married, but when a business opportunity lands in my lap, I know I have to take it. After all, my family means the world to me. I’ll do anything to keep them safe, even if it’s entering a marriage that’s nothing more than convenience so I can pop out an heir.
However, that’s not what happens. The Hayashi’s pull a fast one and I’m left with a snarling godd*mn hellhound on my hands. Harlow is nothing like the demure, sweet woman I signed up for. No, he’s got teeth and he knows how to use them.
There’s no going back.
I’ll either fall in love or bury another lover.
When I started the Vitale Brothers series, I loved the cover of Take Me Apart but didn’t put much meaning to it. It wasn’t until the second book, Paid In Full, that I sat up and took a closer look at the cover because, holy hell, the scene connected to it slayed me!
And DAMN! Benito’s book is a killer, too! That cover is perfect, right down to the turtle tattoo!
Say I Do is the marriage between a monster and the devil. You can bet it’s one hell of a wedding night!
And did I say they’re marrying each other, TWICE!
Seriously, do we expect anything less from the merger of the head of a notorious mafia family and the son of the yakuza boss? It is as feral as it fiery, the bloodlust as intense as the passion! The hatefucks are so nuclear they set the standard for my other reads!
The opening scene set the tone with Harlow Hayashi strapped to a gurney and gagged, ala Hannibal Lecter, because our boy is too deadly. He was wheeled into his wedding to Vitale Family head, Benito, after his twin sister became unsuitable for being pregnant with another man’s child.
Surprised by this turn of events, a.k.a. shitty move by the Hayashis, but unwilling to break the fragile peace, Benito went through with the wedding ceremony. Not knowing what to do with a groom and claiming to be straight, Benito was quick to realize his life not only turned upside down, it got whole lot bloodier too.
Please check the trigger warnings before diving in. There are instances of pedophilia, trauma, death, grief, and a lot of morally grey, if not down right criminal actions.
There is also graphic domestic violence here, and by that, we have Benito and Harlow going at it like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt discovering they’re both spies. It’s not pretty, but just like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Mr. and Mr. Vitale couldn’t resist the magnetic pull and soon channeled their aggression into a more steamy exchange of body fluids. It happens every time buttons are pushed because these two just loved pushing.
“Mostricio, non nascondetevi da me. Non eri quello che cercavo, ma sei tutto ciò di cui ho bisogno“
“Monster, don’t hide from me. You weren’t what I was looking for, but you’re all I need”
The tumultuous romance blossomed while Benito is tasked to uncover who is snitching on the Vitales to a reporter. Harlow, recognizing his stake in the marriage and the Vitales, uses his skills and contacts to help gather intel on the snitch.
This brought him to an old lover, the head of the Chinese triad, who declares ownership of Harlow. Even as a child, the young man was nothing but a bargaining chip to his father who handed him over to the triad. Benito’s not having any of the triad leader’s crap and took matters in his own hands.
This series rarely pulled its punches, and Benito’s story did some heavy hitting, as well. This book is the perfect balance of sex, violence, and FEELS so swoony, the boutique scene melted me into goo! Add to that a gripping plot, and writing that keeps the tension tightly wounded until it exploded into a glorious red wedding climax.
To top it off, another brother was introduced! The mysterious Gianpaolo, Gin’s twin, sacrificed his life for the family to become an FBI agent. He’s going to be paired with his boss! Can’t wait to see how they make this work!
Say I Do blew my expectations out of the water! It is what a proper enemies-to-lovers romance should be, where real hate burns like fire of a thousand suns and the love it forges is true and unbreakable. This 3rd book of the series cements the Vitale Brothers as one of the most memorable mafia romances I’ve read this year!
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
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The Reanimator Mysteries: The Reanimator’s Heart – Kara Jorgensen
A reluctant necromancer, a man killed before his time, and the crime that brings them together.
Felipe Galvan’s life as an investigator for the Paranormal Society has been spent running into danger. Returning home from his latest case, Felipe struggles with the sudden quiet of his life until a mysterious death puts him in the path of the enigmatic Oliver Barlow.
Oliver has two secrets. One, he has been in love with the charming Felipe Galvan for years. Two, he is a necromancer, but to keep the sensible life he’s built as a medical examiner, he must hide his powers. That is until Oliver finds Felipe murdered and accidentally brings him back from the dead.
But Felipe refuses to die again until he and Oliver catch his killer. Together, Felipe and Oliver embark on an investigation to uncover a plot centuries in the making. As they close in on his killer, one thing is certain: if they don’t stop them, Felipe won’t be the last to die.
This year, I developed a soft spot for underdog necromancers, with books such as Malum Discordiae and The Necromancer’s Light showing that the much-maligned death magic, like any ability, can be used for good, too. As Cassius from Malum Discordiae said, among magic users, necromancers are the most respectful of the dead.
The Reanimator’s Heart introduces us to another cinnamon roll necromancer, Oliver Barlow, a neurodiverse medical examiner for the Paranormal Society. A lover of solitude and quiet, Oliver is also lonely, socially awkward, and acutely aware of people’s unflattering opinions of him. His only friend is Gwen Jones, a telekinetic who works in the library.
Oliver has been secretly crushing on veteran investigator Felipe Galvan for ten years. They don’t have much interaction at first but are soon prompted to work together on the case of the mysterious death of a nun.
Later, after many encouragements from Gwen, Oliver gathered courage to ask Felipe to dinner only to find him dead in his room the same way the nun died. In his shock, he accidentally reanimated Felipe. Now, they were tethered to each other and must remain close at all times.
The book opens The Reanimator Mysteries. The series is set in an alt-New York where some people have magical abilities. Many of them work for the Paranormal Society, an organization that handles cases relating to anything supernatural. This is a world where anything from vampires, shifters, demons to magic users exist.
There are some very light steampunk touches, such as steamers, which are their cars, and the presence of pneumatic tubes as means of communication. The Paranormal society is housed in a huge building with dormitories, archives, offices, and a fantastic magical library I would LOVE to explore!
Homosexuality is still considered taboo, but members of the Paranormal Society pretty much do as they please. Women also hold positions of power within the its ranks. Other than these liberties, it’s stays true to a vague 18th?19th?-century setting.
The story is written in dual POV in an omniscient third person style, where Oliver’s perspective is presented, and then immediately shifts to Felipe’s in the same paragraph or section. I liked this style a lot because I don’t have to wait for the next chapter to know the other character’s thoughts. The pacing might be a tad too slow for my liking, but there are no info-dumps, the need-to-knows flow seamlessly with the narrative.
I am also glad we get experienced magic users from the get-go. Although I’m mildly disappointed there are no bombastic displays of magic here, the kind that makes your jaw drop. Magic is used sparingly and are mostly muted affairs deployed when murder is being committed or the dead is being raised.
Oliver is especially careful not to show how strong his powers really are, knowing full well the stigma. He has a very nuanced code of morality when it comes to using his necromancy following rules he set up for himself. At the same time, Oliver doesn’t actually know much about his magic because of lack of books on the the topic and because he doesn’t use it enough to test its limits.
Felipe is a healer, a skill useful only to him because he can only do it to his body. Much, much later, he was able to channel his healing abilities to help Oliver. It’s only the first book, so I’m expecting more spectacular magical developments in the later installments.
And I’ve got to say, Oliver and Felipe are two of the most endearing people you could know! I just loved them individually and together! I’m happy Oliver finally found the person who understood him and let him be himself. And Felipe finally have someone worth staying home for and introducing to his unconventional family.
Majority of the plot focused on Oliver and Felipe’s magical connection and their blossoming romance while they investigate the murder. The mystery was very intriguing, especially as the opening scene shows the murder happening. It was a phenomenal opening, and it set my expectations high. The book delivered most of its promises and made me excited for the next one.
My favorite part was how Oliver, ostracized for being different and strange, grew in confidence and strength with the help of a loyal friend, the love of a good man, and most of all, the indomitable spirit of a lone wolf. As a solitary creature myself, I find our boy pretty inspiring and relatable.
One thing, though, the conclusion wasn’t clear on what the bad guys’ goals were. Was it to raise an undead army? Open a portal to another world? Or control people through magic?
While I’m glad there are no villain monologues, I was hoping Oliver and Felipe would have a dialogue about what exactly were the bad guys’ endgame. Also, I’m not sure whether this thread is connected to the sequels or if it was all wrapped up.
The Reanimator’s Heart is a sweet story of love and friendship, an uplifting portrayal of understanding and acceptance, and a gripping tale of magic and death. Don’t mind my juvenile wish for magical flash and bang, overall, this book is suspenseful, fascinating and deeply heartfelt!
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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