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    REVIEW: This Is Not Revenge by Romilly King

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    This Is Not Revenge by Romilly King

    The new dark gay romance series from Romilly King – Author of the Delphic Agency and Handled Series.

    He’s never going to believe this is for his own good.

    It looks like revenge.

    I swear it’s not.

    There is zero motivation for me to revenge what he did to my Father.

    I’d rather kiss him for it.

    (No, don’t think like that)

    This is me doing the only thing I can to save him.

    I can’t take the thought of one more death on my hands.

    Too many people have lost everything so we can live.

    And there is such power in the enemy vanquished.

    He’ll understand, once I get through to him, once I explain it all, then we can be allies, or even friends.

    I think I would like that.

    It’s a shame I have to lock him up to do this.

    (He does look really good in my chains though)

    This Is Not Revenge is the first book in a new trilogy by gay romance author Romilly King. It features damaged characters, an unreliable narrator, and themes of dark, twisted love. The story arc will continue across all three books.

    Trigger warning – this is a dark gay romance book and includes graphic violence, sexual scenes and psychological manipulation between lovers. Additional trigger warnings inside.


    First of all, that blurb!

    I already knew I will love this even before I started. I just had that feeling.

    Romilly King set the bar high with her Handled series. I completely went gaga over Gray and Nathan. Well, here’s another psycho pair for us to love.

    GIL and LEO ♡!!!

    Sweet, caring, enchanting, equal parts worldly and innocent, quite delusional, very adept at killing, Gil is everything and more. He is a favored son of a serial killer. Raised in a cult, he completely believes his father’s delusions that they have magic. He kidnaps Leo to keep him safe from his father’s wrath. His father has a long reach and other sons at his beck and call who will go after Leo.

    Leo is a forensic psychologist who helped put Gil’s father in prison. He describes himself as a typical gay man, thought himself capable of withstanding the mental tortures of an abduction but learns surprising things about himself while being chained to the wall. He also learns surprising things about his captor.

    The psychological aspect of the book was really well-done. This is written in dual POV which worked perfectly with the plot. It had me questioning whether the book might actually be paranormal, especially in light of Gil’s firm conviction that he can use magic. And yes, it would really seem he does. But then you would get Leo’s POV and the reality would shift back to the mundane. It was a real mindfuck. I loved it.

    I also loved that one line at the first part that hinted this might be set in the Handled world. If so, would there be cameos? Please?

    The trigger warnings set my expectations for this to be very dark and disturbing. It’s actually kind of mild a.k.a. I wasn’t disturbed (but YMMV so do heed the TWs). But it is quite intense in many ways. It is this intensity as well as the complex and compelling characters, the fast-paced plot and the brilliant writing that made the book perfect for me.

    This Is Not Revenge is one of the best Stockholm Syndrome stories I have read. I loved how the author laid out Gil and Leo’s internal conflicts, how they got to know each other, how they slowly won each other’s trust. I relished the delicious anticipation building up to the point when things shifted between them. You can really FEEL that moment.

    It was such a tender and sweet romance. I think it’s absolutely wonderful that, Stockholm Syndrome or not, they were able to find a pure and beautiful emotional connection amidst all these fucked up circumstances. For me, it’s what stood out the most. Witness this heartwrenching scene where they had to fight against the evil father:

    “We have to stop this.”

    Gil looks at me, “We?”

    “Yes.” There is utter certainty in my voice. “We, always we, from now on, forever, we.”

    There is a desperate hope in his eyes. “But I’m mad.”

    “Me too, apparently it’s catching, and I don’t care.” I’m suddenly fierce, suddenly determined, begging him to believe me.

    I don’t suppose there was ever much doubt.

    This madman, I love him. I can’t help it, and I am going to do everything I can to fight for him

    I too caught the bug, apparently, because I’m crazy about these two madmen.

    P.S.

    This Is Not Revenge is book 1 of a trilogy. It ends with a cliffhanger.

    Rating:
    5 Stars – absolutely perfect

    Soundtrack: Safety
    Artist: Yoke Lore
    Album: Far Shore


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    REVIEW: How To Lure A Hunter by Alice Winters

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    VRC: Vampire Related Crimes: How To Lure A Hunter – Alice Winters

    Alexei
    When Marcus Church brings his brother Claude in to help solve an unusual murder, I’m positive he did it just to disrupt my monotonous life. None of my coworkers in the Vampire Related Crimes unit seem to understand that I want to keep a wall between me and everyone else—especially Claude, who does everything he can to break through it with an annoying smile. After more vampires begin to die, Claude pinpoints the actions of the killers to a group of vampire hunters, leaving us in a race to stop them. When I discover that I have a target on my back, I’m surprised that Claude insists on staying by my side, even when things go from bad to worse. I’m determined to keep him out—I’ve lost enough people in my life—but I can’t stop feeling something every time he breaks through.

    Claude
    When I reunited with my brother, I never imagined it’d throw me right into Alexei Karsynov’s path. He’s short-tempered, stubborn, and dangerously adorable whenever he smiles—he just doesn’t realize it yet. When Marcus asks me to help with a case, it gives me the excuse I need to get closer to Alexei, but what I discover threatens to change everything. Suddenly, I find myself wanting to do anything to protect Alexei and to see him smile, despite his efforts to keep his distance from others. I’m determined to show him that he can’t live in the past when his future is so much brighter.

    How to Lure a Hunter is a 106k word book that contains: Clothes so bright they could cause retina damage, a ridiculous amount of gifts showered on a reluctant recipient, a cranky Russian with a soft spot he tries to hide, a library full of books that need to be treated with the proper respect, some possibly unhealthy sibling teasing, and a sunshiny 300-year-old vampire with an unexpected protective streak.


    Alice Winters is an author who likes playing with the grumpy+sunshiny trope. This is the core dynamics of many of her works. And she made one of her best pairings yet with a super cranky Russian detective and a colorful peacock of a vampire.

    How To Lure A Hunter is the third book of VRC: Vampire Related Crimes. This stars Alexei Karsynov a.k.a. Karsyn, a 150 year old Russian vampire working as a detective. He was the anti-social grump Finn befriended in the first book, How To Vex A Vampire. You know what they say about introverts making friends by being adopted by an extrovert? Well, that’s basically Alexei.

    The other extrovert who is very determined to adopt Alexei by all means necessary is Claude Church, Marcus’s creatively dressed twin brother. You couldn’t tell by his neon jackets and zebra prints but Claude is actually very smart. He is, in fact, a scholar who amassed a library of ancient books and is an expert in vampire history.

    This is the very reason why he was called upon as a consultant in their murder investigations. Occult symbols and ancient artifacts were found at the scenes of the crime. He and Alexei had to work together to figure out the clues that were somehow tied to Alexei’s secret past. Something the detective was desperate to keep hidden.

    The author’s trademark humor hit the sweet spot in this installment, a lot of silly scenarios and snarky banter but nothing too over the top or exhausting. The mystery was a bit predictable but I enjoyed it nonetheless, especially with how it was tied to Alexei’s history and character development.

    Alexei!!! I just adored him! I was fully invested in getting to know why he is the way he is. He is the most lovable tsundere to ever grump his way into everyone’s hearts. He had so much hurts and so convinced he is unlovable because of his past, he decided he should be alone for the rest of his life rather than have his heart be broken again. Being burned alive by a loved one could do that to a person.

    He was valiantly keeping everyone at arm’s length but Claude was relentless. Having latched on to the Russian in the previous books, he pursued the man with the good-natured persistence of a Labrador. I loved Claude just as much because he was never annoying in his pursuit. He was also very generous, thoughtful and caring. Not just with Alexei but also with his brother, even though Marcus had tried to kill him several times. He even risked his life to save Finn in book two, How To Elude A Vampire.

    It was a joy to see Alexei grow as a character and how Claude convinced him he was always going to be there for him no matter what. The part where Alexei finally accepted that, and brilliantly performed with such overflow of emotions by narrator Michael Ferraiuolo, that scene went straight to my kokoro. It was, hands down, my favorite in the entire series.

    How To Lure A Hunter is the best book in VRC. I don’t know how the next one would top that. It’s a great balance of humor, mystery and romance. I was already rooting for Alexei and Claude even before I read their book and they came together wonderfully here. They proved that cheerful scholars in flashy neon suits are doggedly steadfast and that it’s the grumpy ones who have the softest hearts.

    Also, solnyshko ♡ (ˆ⌣ˆԅ)

    P.S.

    VRC: Vampire Related Crimes is best read in order. Read the first two books and find out how a tiny human with mechanical limbs tamed the big bad 300-year-old vampire who hates humans.

    Check out my reviews below:
    How To Vex A Vampire
    How To Elude A Vampire

    Rating:
    4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away

    Soundtrack: Brighter Than Sunshine
    Artist: Aqualung
    Album: Still Life


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    REVIEW: Down Low by Parker St. John

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    Down Home: Down Low – Parker St. John

    His broken bones could finally mend their broken bond…

    Bull riding was the only thing that calmed the thrill-seeking, self-destructive beast inside of Calvin Craig. It allowed him to escape a small-minded town and the pain of his troubled youth, fleeing to bright lights and big city fame without looking back.

    One trip on the horns of the wrong bull changed everything.

    Cal is forced to come crawling back home for the first time in ten years, his body broken and riding days behind him. But not everyone is happy for the return of their local celebrity.

    Eli Jackson was once the tall, dark, and sinful preacher’s son who had Cal wrapped around his little finger. Now the steely-eyed sheriff of Sweetwater, Eli is hell bent on running him right back out of town. He’s never forgiven Cal for the spectacular implosion of their relationship. Even though the lingering tension soon has them burning up the sheets, he refuses to be tamed.

    Cal is surprised to find himself rising to a new challenge: breaking the bull that is Eli Jackson.

    He might have run out of luck, but he’s not out of miracles… yet.


    Down Low was an emotional rollercoaster. I found myself enjoying the heck out of it. It was so good! This is an angsty, second chance, friends to enemies to lovers story of high school sweethearts Calvin Craig and Eli Jackson.

    Cal and Eli were each other first loves. They had to keep their relationship a secret because Eli was the son of a hellfire and brimstone pastor. In their senior year, Cal wanted to come out but Eli was hesitant. He was heading to college and couldn’t jeopardize his future. They had an ugly fight. The next day, Cal disappeared.

    Ten years after, we see Cal returning home (slunking more like). For the past decade, he was a bull-riding superstar and had the broken bones to show for it. He was still healing in several parts, too injured to ride again. The moment he arrived in Sweetwater, he was in for a lot of surprises. Also, Eli hated his guts.

    Cal is a “pipsqueak who doesn’t know when to quit” according to Eli. He was bullied in high school. Bull-riding is all he knows. He is a self-destructive adrenaline junkie who would risk permanent injury to save those he cared about. Eli is the town sheriff. He is level-headed and dependable but has a dark streak hidden deep inside.

    The book is solely from Cal’s POV. I wished we had Eli’s POV too. Sometimes, when we get a 1st person POV from a person who pines for somebody, it feels unbalanced. Like the other person has all the power. But this was soon put to rights as the story progressed. We witness Eli being drawn to Cal like a magnet and learn his side of the story.

    The book perfectly depicted all the conflicting, heart-crushing emotions of seeing your first love after 10 years, the one who betrayed you but still loved after all this time. The longing, the USTs, the hate kisses, the flames gloriously coming back to life. My heart went out to Cal and Eli. They had to sort through a decade of hurts and misunderstandings. Mutual pining, anyone? ♡

    I loved the parts where Eli couldn’t help himself. He just had to kiss Cal even if he wanted to punch him just as badly. Cal loves pushing his buttons and when Eli’s buttons are pushed, that’s when things get seriously explosive.

    Peak Cal moment is him singing Son Of A Preacher Man offkey at the top of his voice just to annoy Eli, instead of enjoying the cozy morning after. Which ended their very brief “truce” and sent them back to square one a.k.a. Eli hating him again.

    Each chapter is marked with a song and opens with a short flashback. I loved how the writing seamlessly take us back to the past and juxtaposed it with the present. We see how Cal’s teen self views the world, perhaps still in a limited, adults are enemies way most people his age do. He created a boogeyman in Eli’s father, who was a huge presence not only in their lives but the entire town as well.

    His adult self was very much surprised with how much his small town has changed. And how it still the same podunk town he left behind. I enjoyed the parts where he realized things were different now, more accepting and open. Bullies are now friends and the pastor is only a human who loves his son.

    The book also excelled in bringing bull-riding to life. This is a world I know nothing about, but here, it was portrayed, not so much in vivid detail, but with well-written glimpses that easily captured the rodeo world. It brought us the heat and adrenaline, the heart stopping triumphs and the sometimes fatal losses, and the indomitable spirits of men who risk life and limb for 8 precious seconds.

    Down Low is simply wonderful. It is one man’s eye-opening homecoming, a reliving of unforgettable memories, a comfort for years of hurts, a fixing of mistakes, and a tumultuous reunion of childhood sweethearts. It takes us through a whole gamut of emotions, sad, happy, painful, sweet and more. Yeah, quite a ride this one!

    Rating:
    4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away

    Soundtrack: Son of a Preacher Man
    Artist: The John Does
    Album:


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    AUDIO REVIEW: Natural Twenty by Charlie Novak

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    Roll For Love: Natural Twenty – Charlie Novak

    Plants are easier than people—that’s Leo’s rule of thumb. After all, nobody really wants a man who looks like he belongs in a biker gang but would rather spend his time buried in books and flowers. It’s just easier to be single. Until he meets the owner of the new book shop.

    Jacob Morris knows two things: he’s really attracted to the man who runs the local flower shop, and he doesn’t date. Not when he’s still healing from a bad breakup, has a new business to run, game nights to organise, workshops to host, and a website to build.

    When friendship blooms into something more, Leo and Jay must decide whether to roll the dice and take a chance on love or keep forging ahead on their quests alone. Will their roll yield a one or a perfect, natural twenty?

    Natural Twenty is an 80,000-word contemporary MM romance featuring Dungeons & Dragons, secret flower language bouquets, a spoilt Staffy (or two), and a best friend who is basically a gothic prince. It is book one in the Roll for Love series and can be read as a standalone.


    When I picked this up, I had no idea what “natural twenty” meant. I learned later this refers to the roll of the twenty-sided dice in Dungeons and Dragons. If I understood it correctly, getting a natural twenty means maximum success.

    Natural Twenty is the first book of the geek-tastic series, Roll for Love. This is an insta-attraction, slow-burn, friends-to-lovers story of Leo, florist and Jay, bookseller. It’s packed full of all things geeky, from scifi and fantasy books, Dungeons and Dragons, cosplayers, steampunk conventions, superhero shows and pop culture references.

    Leo looks like a lion but is actually a kitten. His intimidating, taciturn exterior puts off a lot of people. They failed to notice underneath it all, there was a sweet, gentle giant who gives his heart too easily. His sole companion in life is his dog, Angie.

    Jay is an adorkable transplant from London, who left his old life after his ex cheated on him. He came to live with his friend, Edward, to mend his broken heart. Starting fresh, he bravely opened his own bookstore in Yorkshire. On his opening day, he received a welcome bouquet from Leo, who had decided to check out the new establishment in the neighborhood.

    The two struck a friendship but couldn’t deny the attraction between them. Friendship was slowly turning into an enjoyable, comfortable relationship when angst, internal conflict and struggling business got the better of Jay. He decided to put a temporary halt on things because he couldn’t handle all the pressure.

    This should actually be a more straightforward book. I couldn’t help but feel it should have been a lot shorter, perhaps a novella. Things could have been resolved a lot quicker.

    It showed Leo and Jay going about their day to day. This is fine, even enjoyable sometimes but there was too much internal dialogue. Mostly, I struggled with keeping my attention focused on the story. I felt the dreaded saggy middle. Happily, Joel Leslie’s fabulously on-point narration kept me going.

    And while I liked reading about the how-tos of running a small business, especially a bookstore, going through some business minutiae did feel a bit tedious at some points. Ditto with the Dungeons and Dragons part. Having never played the game, I couldn’t fully appreciate all the references.

    On the upside, the book had a lot of wonderful side-characters. Chief of whom is Edward, cosplayer and gothic prince, who basically stole the show. All the time I was reading, I kept thinking how much fun his book would be.

    My favorite part here was floriography, the language of flowers. Each chapter is marked with a flower and their meanings. I have zero interest in flowers but the way Leo put together his bouquets for Jay, carefully picking each flower and leaving pieces of his heart in each blossom, that was absolutely beautiful! Especially coming from a guy who struggles with words. It was such a deeply romantic and meaningful gesture. It made me appreciate flowers a little better.

    Things started picking up when Jay’s bookstore became viral. From then on, the story moved faster and I was able to enjoy it more. Despite my complaints about the draggy bits of the book, I still love the way Leo and Jay were brought together, first as friends, then as lovers and then later when they were reunited. It was a sweet, fluffy journey made more charming with some floral magic.

    All in all, Natural Twenty might not have rolled out maximum success but it’s still a good roll. Read if you love adorkable elven bards who sing Spice Girls offkey, gothic princes who drink in tea sets that match their wardrobe and most especially, gentle giants who speak in flowers.

    P.S.

    Thank you to Gay Romance Reviews and Audible UK for giving me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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

    Soundtrack: Bloom
    Artist: RKCB
    Album:


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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: Happy Endings by Alice Winters

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    Demon Magic: Happy Endings – Alice Winters

    Smart men never dabble with demons. I never claimed to be smart, but at least I’m powerful enough to control them. When I bound Havoc to me nearly three hundred years ago, I never realized how difficult he’d make my life, although “accidentally” lighting him on fire every now and then does bring a smile to my face.

    Havoc is handsome, mysterious, and somehow my closest companion, even if we don’t always get along. He’s more interested in bedding attractive women than protecting my life, which defeats the main reason a mage like me would have a demon. I even had to fight off swordsmen alone once because he was too busy betting on who’d survive.

    When fifteen people are found dead with messages from a long-extinct cult, Havoc and I are forced to face our past and sort through our differences. We start to realize that there’s something more to this relationship, something that has kept us by each other’s sides for so long. Maybe it took three hundred years to finally understand my feelings for Havoc and realize that I can’t imagine being with anyone but him. Havoc and I will do everything we can to stop the evil that is threatening the lives of the people I care about. Or destroy everything—we haven’t quite figured that out yet.

    Happy Endings is a 73k word novel that has an immensely powerful mage, a shapeshifting demon with a strong libido, a dark mage that just won’t stay dead, a spray bottle put to unusual uses, armor that is most definitely not made of dragon skin, blackmail involving an unfortunate slow-mo video, a detective being pursued by a determined minotaur, unprofessional use of illusions, and an epic walk into battle.

    *Revised and edited.


    Happy Endings kicked off Demon Magic, another Alice Winters paranormal snark-fest.

    Miles and his contracted demon go about their intertwined lives for 300 years, with Havoc sleeping with every woman he can get. Miles lets him carry on with his amorous business while very, very secretly pining for his demon.

    The mage owns a café that doubled as magic shop and home. Apart from an oversexed demon familiar, he has a witch assistant and a werewolf chef who were a couple. He was approached by two detectives about a dead body with markings similar to that used by an Inquisition-type group Miles had encountered hundreds of years ago.

    Miles and Havoc’s past was dredged up the deeper they became involved with the case. We learned about the abuse Miles suffered from his late master and how he and Havoc forged their connection. It later turned out, this very dead master might not be resting in peace after all.

    Miles is quite possibly, the most powerful mage in existence although the book hasn’t confirmed it. I always liked it when we get an established high level magic user right off the bat since I’m bored with beginners. There were a lot of magic on display which I really enjoyed. Miles can use glamour and change his appearance. He can basically do almost anything but has an affinity for fire. And he has demons at his beck and call.

    Havoc, well, he’s a piece of work. The demon is obnoxious, horny and childish. We meet a lot of his type in the author’s works. He’s tolerable but him going from chasing skirts to getting into Miles’ pants seemed to come out of nowhere. But after my confusion with his sudden turnabout wore off, I could see his complete dedication to Miles. Which is always delivered with a jibe or two to the long-suffering mage.

    This series has a great supporting cast. Standouts were Sam the detective and Iya the minotaur. I’d love to read their story. Iya is a himbo who latched on to Sam after Miles assigned him to protect the detective under strict orders not to penetrate the human unless the human said so otherwise. Trust the doofus to misinterpret that in his little demonic brain.

    At first, I was put off by the ridiculous opening scene and had to give it another try before it stuck. The author’s humor is the polarizing kind. Either you like it or you don’t. Here, it got tiresome at many points. Many lines weren’t that funny. They were trying too hard to be raunchy.

    There were also scenes that did nothing to the story, merely there to show off a gag or two. And almost overshadowed the progress of relevant events which is too bad because the core plot was actually exciting. We got necromancers, missing grimoires and political intrigues, not to mention a cute romance involving a demon. They’re my favorite kind of supernatural love interest next to vampires.

    The writing wasn’t as dedicated to its world-building as it to the humor but we still more or less see an understandable picture of what’s going on. It is the kind of fantasy world where every imaginable creature exists so we get everything from paladins to archangels and things that I’m not even sure what.

    There were also explanations provided for demon summoning. Most of it were the usual ritualistic stuff but I liked that Miles is so powerful he can drop the chanting mumbo jumbo and just go with “I summon you”.

    The book also tackled the demon’s relationship to its summoner. Most contracted demons were treated nothing more than strictly controlled, often mistreated tools. Miles and Havoc’s relationship has always been special. The mage treated his demon kindly from the start. A huge risk because demons are very tricky. I love the trust they had with each other.

    Happy Endings might have gone overboard with the silly gags and could have woven a stronger world but it still had the right amount of magic, loveable demons, quirky humans and intriguing threads to propel me through to the next book.

    And so the quest continues with more misadventures, more graves turned, more misuse of glamour spells and a monster from the past making his comeback. Looks like the real fun’s just starting.

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

    Soundtrack: Stuck With You
    Artist: Upstate
    Album: Wake The Morning


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    SERIES REVIEW: The Elite by Brooke Blaine & Ella Frank

    The Elite: Danger Zone – Brooke Blaine & Ella Frank

    The Elite: Need For Speed – Brooke Blaine & Ella Frank

    The Elite: Classified – Brooke Blaine & Ella Frank

    They train to serve their country.
    They strive to be the best.
    But only a select few can be …
    The Elite

    * * *

    MATTEO MORGAN
    CALL SIGN: SOLO


    Reckless, arrogant, and bold, Solo is as known in the U.S. Navy for his bad-boy reputation as he is for his skills as a fighter pilot. It’s a surprise to his peers, then, when he’s chosen to train and compete at the most prestigious naval aviation academy in the world.

    MISSION RULES:
    1. Kick everyone’s ass.
    2. Do whatever it takes to win.
    3. Do your best to distract the competition.
    4. Especially when that competition is a gorgeous blue-eyed perfectionist who makes your blood run hot.

    * * *

    GRANT HUGHES
    CALL SIGN: PANTHER


    Disciplined, smart, and confident, Panther can’t afford not to play by the rules. As the son of a top Navy commander, all eyes are on him, and being anything less than number one is unacceptable.

    MISSION RULES:
    1. Keep it safe in the air.
    2. Prove you’re more than Commander Hughes’s son.
    3. No distractions. Stay focused.
    4. Don’t fall for your competition—especially not the rebellious heartbreaker with lips made for sinning.

    In the heat of the hot California sun, tempers flare and desires ignite as Solo and Panther try to resist their attraction while fighting to be number one.
    With passion this intense, the question remains:
    Who’s gonna come out on top?


    I was in grade school the last time I watched Top Gun so I never realized how gay it was until I saw the gifs. So gay that even if I couldn’t stand Tom Cruise, I had to ship Maverick and Iceman.

    When this series flew in my radar, halle-fucking-luyah!

    The Elite are the best of the best fighter pilots gunning for the number 1 spot. They compete for several grueling weeks. Top of the leaderboard are the reckless daredevil Matteo Morgan aka Solo, and by-the-book golden boy Grant Hughes aka Panther.

    To their fellow pilots, these two very different men were bitter rivals. Unbeknownst to all, Solo was doing his damnedest to get into Panther’s pants.

    Solo locked on to Panther the moment the other man walked into a bar right before their training began. Both were unaware of who the other was. The attraction was mutual but the closeted Panther turned him down. And continued to turn him down as their training progressed. Solo couldn’t be deterred.

    This is the part where Solo was annoying. I almost dropped the book because Panther had said no several times. Even if somebody was obviously interested, it’s still not cool to harass them when they already said no. I even expected him to get punched through his teeth. But the thing with Solo, he could be the most annoying bastard ever existed, you’ll still feel drawn to him (as Panther no doubt felt). And he was funny.

    Panther, on the other hand, exudes a tall, dark, commanding presence much like his namesake. He’s keeping cool under pressure but a certain relentless, out and proud pilot is making him to break all the rules.

    Panther and Solo, they are fire and kerosene. It’s like the authors took those palpable USTs from the movie and ignited them, bringing to life all those subtexts Hollywood was too cowardly to show explicitly. The tension continued to be intense from start to finish, fueled by the combustible energy between the MCs.

    There are three books in the series. It’s really one long story story chopped into cliffhangers. This style is a hit or miss in my experience. There’s the issue of lack of substance for the installments. Happily, each book in The Elite held solid weight, chronicling the evolution of Panther and Solo’s relationship and highlighting several conflicts and milestones.

    The Elite might primarily be romance but it definitely didn’t slack off on the action. It gave us all the breathtaking jet plane maneuvers, all the cocky attitudes, the smack talk, the constant one-up-manship, the homoerotic volleyball games, the sun, the beach, the adrenaline in land and air. Everything we loved about the movie but way, way better because these fighter pilots ride each other’s tail.

    This Top-Gun homage is a dream come true. Thank you Brooke Blaine & Ella Frank for making it happened.

    Rating:
    4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away

    Soundtrack: Dangerous Animals
    Artist: Arctic Monkeys
    Album: Humbug

    Soundtrack: High Speed
    Artist: Coldplay
    Album: Parachutes

    Soundtrack: Cool With You
    Artist: Hers
    Album: Songs of Hers


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    DANGER ZONE | NEED FOR SPEED | CLASSIFIED

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    REVIEW: Loose Ends by Morgan Brice

    50181039. sy475

    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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    LOOSE ENDS

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