Dearest Milton James – N.R. Walker
Malachi Keogh finds himself in a job he neither wanted nor asked for when his father, boss of Sydney’s postal service, sends him to the end of the business line, aka The Dead Letter Office. Malachi expects tedious and boring but instead discovers a warehouse with a quirky bunch of misfit co-workers, including a stoic and nerdy boss, Julian Pollard.
Malachi’s intrigued by Julian at first, and he soon learns there’s more to the man than his boring clothes of beige, tan, and brown; a far cry from Malachi’s hot pink, lilac, and electric blue. Where Julian is calm and ordered, Malachi is chaos personified, but despite their outward differences, there’s an immediate chemistry between them that sends Malachi’s head—and heart—into a spin.
To keep his father happy, Malachi needs to keep this job. He also needs to solve the mystery of the pile of old letters that sits in Julian’s office and maybe get to the bottom of what makes Julian tick. Like everything that goes through the mail centre, only time will tell if Malachi has found his intended destination or if he’ll find himself returned to sender.
Dearest Malachi Keogh – N.R. Walker
Julian Pollard never believed in love at first sight. That was until he met Malachi Keogh. Well, maybe it wasn’t love at first sight, but it sure was something.
Julian had forgotten how to live, how to be happy, and Malachi changed all that. Now together for four years, Julian wants to give Malachi a Christmas he’ll never forget.
N.R. Walker writes some of the most heartwarming, unforgettable stories. She outdid herself with Dearest Milton James. Hands down, this is one of the most adorable stories I’ve read!
Dearest Milton James is set in Australia’s Dead Letter Office, perhaps the least likely place to find excitement or the man of your dreams. The story not only made this dull department a place of surprises and mysteries, it also housed two very inspiring, heart-meltingly sweet romances.
Colorfully dressed, walking ray of sunshine Malachi Keogh was dumped by his father, the head of the postal service, in the Dead Letter Office as a last-ditch effort to give his son work. Boldly declaring he would not stay long, Malachi soon found himself a new family in the merry band of misfits headed by the nerdy but hottie, Julian Pollard, rocking head-to-toe brown.
He also discovered that the Dead Letter Office was far from dead. I was just as surprised with how much activity there was. Their main responsibility is to find the sender or/and receiver. It’s work that combines detective skills and research. And opening packages!
It’s the most fun and sometimes terrifying part because you never know what you’ll find. From heartwarming little tokens, live animals, sex toys, and even body parts. The plastic kind but still hella creepy.
The plot is an epistolary romantic mystery of two anonymous men in a forbidden relationship in the 1970s. It sparked a present-day romance between Malachi and Julian. The department has a bundle of mysterious 40-year-old letters addressed to a Milton James. Malachi, Julian, and the rest of the gang pooled their talents to solve the mystery and find the sender.
This part of the story completely absorbed me. I was so intrigued and heavily invested in uncovering the identity of the two men who were separated by war and societal taboos. I was prepared to be heartbroken about the outcome but the plot threw in some twists that totally caught me by surprise!
I love Malachi! I loved how he matched his hair to his clothes. I used to dress as colorfully as him, so I was totally digging his vibe right off the bat. Our boy is prone to verbal diarrhea, and his outbursts are funny! He’s endearingly emotional and soft-hearted with just the right amount of sass. His POV was super fun to read.
If you’re looking for a book boyfriend, Julian’s your guy. I’m a sucker for blushy seme, and he’s adorably blushy. He’s perfect without being annoying. Seeing him trying to conceal his attraction to Malachi from Malachi’s perspective worked so well in highlighting his swoony nerdy appeal
The story hit me hard in the kokoro! From the deeply moving, beautifully poetic writing of the mysterious letter sender pouring his heart out to Milton James to the floofy gooey, super sweet connection that blossomed between Malachi and Julian, I was a mushy ball of goo!
Dearest Malachi Keogh is the equally wonderful and floofy short story of Julian hatching a plan to gift Malachi the most unforgettable Christmas surprise of all. Everyone got involved to make it happen.
It’s a charming little epilogue that echoes the main story. I was delighted to read Julian’s POV. This guy is everything!
Dearest Milton James and Dearest Malachi Keogh are the perfect balance of humor, romance, and mystery. They’re light and angst-free. A magical, poignant, feel-good tale of love and friendship definitely worth writing home about.
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
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Panopolis: Where There’s Smoke – Cari Z
Panopolis is a rough place to be an average Joe. I came here looking for adventure and excitement, but nobody cares about one more normal guy in a city filled with super-powered heroes. The closest I’ve come to glory is working in a bank that villains often rob.
But then I maybe accidentally-on-purpose helped a villain escape the hero who was trying to save the day. Imagine my shock when, a week later, that villain asked me out for coffee. One date turned into more, and now I’m head over heels in love with Raul.
Falling in love with the guy dubbed the Mad Bombardier isn’t without its downsides, though. I’ve had to deal with near-death encounters with other villains, awkwardly flirtatious heroes who won’t take no for an answer, and a lover I’m not sure I can trust. It’s getting to the point where I know I’ll have to make a choice: side with the heroes, or stand fast by my villain.
Either way, I think my days as a normal guy are over.
Panopolis: Where There’s Fire – Cari Z
Making a name for myself as a Villain in Panopolis is hard work. Six months ago, my boyfriend broke me out of jail. Now he’s spending most of his time defending our turf against other Villains he accidentally freed along with me. And my new psychic powers are not only impossible to control, but they’re also giving me migraines.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. My skills are improving every day, and Raul—aka the Mad Bombardier—and I have never been happier. That is, until my first solo job is interrupted by a mysterious woman who tells me that Raul has been kidnapped by a ruthless new Villain. The only way to free him is to do a job for Maggot, a man with scary ideas and an even scarier superpower.
I can’t go to the cops or a Hero for help. Odds are they wouldn’t listen to me anyway. If I fail, Raul will be killed. If I succeed, we’ll both be bound to a man who’ll stop at nothing to put Panopolis on the path to civil war.
It looks like the only way to win is to take out the competition.
When I was working as an ESL tutor, my Japanese student and I talked about anime. I told him I was almost always fascinated with the villains and asked why anime stories usually show the villain’s backstory. I asked because most western cartoons don’t do that. He told me it was because the Japanese believe an enemy today could be a friend tomorrow.
Panopolis by Cari Z is a great example of of the shifting lines between villainy and heroism. Sometimes, it’s a matter of perspective. This underrated series deconstructs the superhero and supervillain tropes.
I came into this thinking I would get a cartoonish, comical romp, something along the lines of Despicable Me or The Incredibles. I got a dark, sinister tale of highly unethical science, mind control and oppression, torture and terrorism, politics and conspiracies, and the collateral damage that is conveniently ignored in the name of saving the day.
Panopolis is a mega-city with an unusually high number of supers. Time-honored tradition dictates it’s always heroes vs. villains. The good guys have corporate sponsorships and all the perks. The baddies are mostly after money and make the heroes look good. The fights get a lot of tv coverage, usually as entertainment.
Where There’s Smoke opens the series with a bank heist by one of the city’s most notorious villains, The Mad Bombardier. It happens to be the bank where Edward Dingle works. He’s a kind, mild-mannered guy. So kind he couldn’t resist covertly helping the very villain robbing his bank because he saw The Mad Bombardier needed a hand.
Intrigued, The Mad Bombardier, a.k.a. Raul, sought Edward out again. Their first date was cute! They eventually started dating. The story breezed through the early parts of their relationship and fast-forwarded to them being an established couple.
Raul is a total sweetheart, and his costume is supercool! He became a bomb expert due to a rather atypical upbringing. He wears a helmet with numbers counting down. It looks ominous, but it’s actually his little joke. He’s also the only top villain with no body count under his belt so far.
Book 1 is a 2-hour audiobook, so the plot moved fast. The story is told from the 1st-person POV of Edward, tackling the moral dilemma and the consequences of dating a supervillain. It shakes an already precarious situation by having that supervillain’s superhero nemesis crushing on Edward and persistently asking him out. Edward is also slowly learning what those corporate sponsorships really entail.
I love how the story blurs the lines. Along with Edward, we question who is the hero? Who is the villain? Who is the criminal? Who is the victim? And who the hell is really in charge? This novella laid out a fantastic foundation for the follow-up. It’s best to have the next book on hand before starting this because the ending turned Edward’s world upside down. You’ll be grabbing that sequel immediately!
Where There’s Fire picks up on the aftermath of all those explosions. This is where those foreboding thoughts about Panopolis became harsh reality. What was only hinted at and glimpsed in the periphery came out in the open when Edward and Raul met with the villains. It’s where the series became truly dark.
It’s also the part where I was seriously torn. One hand, I felt sorry for these villains because of what they had gone through. It was pretty nasty! I also understood their cause, their fight to right the wrongs done to their ilk. But then, them being what they are, they get a little too Machiavellian. Poor Raul had to suffer for it!
This is the part where Edward embraced who he really was. How he saved Raul was brilliantly executed! It’s like the man conquered the city by making people feel and being his kind self. He was awesome!!!
This is longer than the 1st book, so things were more fleshed out. The tension is tight throughout the story. The suspense ratcheted up several notches when our boy Edward took on the entire city. Edward’s trick on the boss fight scene was super clever!
I tried not to give too many details here because it’s best to go in knowing only the minimum details. The Cari Z books I’ve read are those she has written with L.A. Witt. I need to read more of her solo works, as well, because she’s a very talented writer. I could tell she really knows her stuff when it comes to supers.
Panopolis is the perfect example of that. It is an action-packed, sometimes sweet, thought-provoking, and uniquely fascinating take on heroes and villains. A potent reminder that with great powers comes great headaches.
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Cloth & Stone: Taking His Confession – P.J. Friel & Saffron Hart
Sparks fly when a man of the cloth teams up with a cursed creature of stone to save a troubled teen from a ruthless drug lord.
Gideon Fawkes longs to meet the handsome young deacon who teaches at St. Anthony’s Boys Academy. There’s just one problem. Gideon is a gargoyle, and he’s pretty sure Deacon Cruz only dates humans.
Cordero Cruz knows a lot about forgiveness. It’s the cornerstone of his calling. Too bad he can never offer it to himself. Because of him, people died, and there’s no redemption for that kind of mistake.
But a lack of humanity and a heart filled with guilt are nothing compared to a young man’s life. When a merciless criminal threatens Cordero and one of his students, Gideon will have to risk more than his stony hide to protect them. Cordero must do the unthinkable to prove he’s deserving of the gargoyle turned guardian angel. But when their road to hell is paved with good intentions, they must learn only trust and redemption can pave the way for love.
Among the various supernatural boyfriends found in paranormal romance, gargoyles are a rarity. The Cloth & Stone series immediately grabbed my attention because of its gargoyle MC.
Taking His Confession opens the series from the 1st person POV of Deacon Cordero Cruz. He just saw the little brother of his late best friend talking to the city’s most notorious mob boss. Alarmed, he tried to get answers from the young man and learned he owed the mobsters a huge sum of money for a failed drug run. Money they couldn’t afford, barely having any to support his mom and siblings.
Unknown to the people in St. Anthony’s, a watcher sat perched on its rooftops. Gideon Fawkes was cursed to be a gargoyle for almost a century. He has a special interest in the young deacon. Special enough for him to break cover when mobsters were out to get the Cordero.
I have had this on my TBR since last year. I was hesitant to start on this because I usually steer clear of religion-themed books. Cordero’s internal dialogues are examples of why I do.
Most of it boils down to “I am not worthy. I don’t deserve to be happy.” I wasn’t too keen on the self-flagellation, but happily, the authors managed to avoid crossing over to miserable. They were still able to let Cordero’s brighter personality shine through.
And Cordero might angst over his so-called unworthiness, but there was no angsting over his sexuality. I loved that he was totally comfortable with it and had no hesitations about sleeping with Gideon.
The deacon is the kind of man who bears all the world’s troubles on his shoulders. A selfless individual who prays for everyone else’s well-being except for himself. It’s why he stood out among the sea of prayers that the gargoyle hears everyday.
Gideon used to be a rum runner back in the 1920s. He turned into a gargoyle one day after committing a crime. I found some of his thoughts on a divine being echoing some of my own. I wondered why he still believed. But then, turning into a stone at sunrise and back into a man by sunset is divine punishment if ever there was one.
The plot interweaves the romantic development of Cordero and Gideon’s relationship with that of them teaming up to to protect Cordero’s students from the mobsters. Cordero and Gideon are compelling characters who very effectively drove the story forward, sweeping me along effortlessly with their woes and insecurities, joys and triumphs, and the occasional streak of humor. Usually from Gideon. I love this gargoyle! His POV is more fun than Cordero’s.
The romance was sweet. I would even say it was kinda cute. It was a tender and fragile relationship filled with fears, misunderstanding, and also, love. Alas, it imploded after Gideon’s ridiculous decision to storm the mob boss’s mansion by himself without careful reconnaissance.
Cordero was a complete mess for a while there, plus an even more ridiculous decision by Gideon to push the love of his life away. Fortunately, the two came to their senses and started working together for real. The story moved faster at this point, more action-packed and suspenseful with lotsa things going bang!
Even with the negative thoughts and the bad decisions, Taking His Confession is a well-written book that kept me riveted. It ends with a cliffy HFN, so it’s best read when you have all three books on hand. This dramatic tale of the deacon and his gargoyle boyfriend is dark and full of heartache, but it’s also sweet, even hopeful, and most definitely gripping.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Dysfunctional – Isabel Lucero
A dark, MM romance
Ezra Hamilton hasn’t felt the warm spurt of blood flow through his fingers or the indescribable feeling of pushing a knife deep into someone’s flesh in a long time. Too long.
He’s been watching a man stalk women, curious as to what he’s doing with them. Ezra’s never encountered someone with similar dark tendencies before, and what starts off as genuine curiosity turns into much more when Kaspian turns the tables on him.
As their chemistry builds, so does the mistrust. They both know they can’t trust a killer, but their inner demons call to each other anyway.
When Kaspian’s impulsivity threatens to ruin Ezra’s freedom, he knows he has to stop him. Kas appears to be fixated on Willow—a woman Ezra works with. In an effort to not have to worry about her disappearance bringing heat on him, he tracks Kaspian as Kaspian follows Willow into a cabin in the mountains.
There, in the middle of a blizzard, secrets will be revealed and revelations made, but the chances of everybody making it out alive are slim.
This is a dark romance that will have graphic scenes. Warnings are on the author’s website. 18+
Ever since Hannigram, I have been looking for more murder husbands stories so Dysfunctional is right up my alley.
The premise reminded me of Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z Brite, where one serial killer falls in love with another. One difference, however, is that both MCs are bisexual.
The story starts with Ezra Hamilton, a psychopathic killer trying to lead a normal life. He noticed a tattooed young man, Kaspian, stalking several women. Intrigued, he proceeded to stalk him in return. Observing that these women soon disappeared, he recognized a kindred spirit. One day, he followed Kas and his victim to a hotel, only to be confronted by Kaspian.
This starts a little game of I-know-what-you-are-and-I’m-going-to-make-you-say-it. Later, as their relationship evolved, it turned into pushing buttons and testing limits. I’m living for the USTs and the power dynamics here!
They danced around each, using innocent people as pawns while they exchanged long looks across the room. And this is both in the literal and figurative sense because some of the scenes happened in a club. The zing jumps off the page!
I have a one niggle though. For experienced bad guys, they’re pretty sloppy. It’s a wonder they’re not caught yet.
For instance, in the first few chapters, Ezra’s phone broke. He took it to a cellphone repair shop. Turns out Kas works there. I couldn’t believe, Ez just handed his phone over to Kas, knowing the guy is a fellow killer. Cellphone techs dig up a lot of shit from people’s phones. Ezra should have known better.
Another thing, these two were not mentioned wearing gloves or any protective gear when they touched the victims. Heck, they even jerked each other off next to the grave after just burying their victim. They are spreading their DNA samples all over the place. So yeah, sloppy.
But even with the lack of PPEs, the story completely grabbed me with its tightly paced writing that always held a thrum of tension. I loved how the plot explored the dynamics in so many interesting ways, twisting and turning with secrets and revelations that are part of a deadly mating ritual between Ezra and Kas. It became a question of who is after who. And why. It was the why that unleashed the monsters.
There are some graphic scenes here so please heed the TWs. In terms of darkness, I say this is darkish grey. The murder scenes are short and to the point. Nothing gratuitous. There is some blood play as well. The two MCs are obviously bad guys but are shown with a code in the later part where they kill only evil-doers.
Overall, Dysfunctional is a satisfying addition to my small but growing list of murder husbands books. It grabbed me from page 1, and I was riveted til the end. It was a weeknight, but I finished it in one sitting. It’s that good!
There’s something so fascinating about stories where one’s crazy matches another’s insanity. Gives hope that there’s someone for everyone. Even the psychos.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Everyone who’s heard about the Mulvaneys knows that the Mulvaney twins always come as a package. So it makes sense that I should review their books together.
By now, the Mulvaneys need no introduction. This family of vigilante psychopaths has endeared themselves to many readers of MM romance. And I have declared my love for them ad nauseum.
Here’s my review of Headcase and Mad Man, Books 4 and 5 of Necessary Evils:
Necessary Evils: Headcase – Onley James
Asa Mulvaney is half of a psychopathic whole. He and his twin brother live together, party together…kill together. In the Mulvaney family, murder is the family business and business is good. When an experiment separates Asa and his brother, Asa is forced to navigate the world on his own for the first time in his life.
Zane Scott is a small-time crime blogger and amateur sleuth, but he dreams of a byline in a major paper someday. When he winds up at a boring fundraiser beside Asa Mulvaney, they share an intensely passionate encounter that leaves Zane with an ache in his chest and a story idea that could make his career dreams a reality.
At a nearby college, a cluster of suicides isn’t what it seems. When Asa’s father asks him to look into it, he sees the perfect opportunity to see his little crime reporter again. And Asa needs to see him again. Zane’s suspicious of Asa’s motives, but he won’t say no to a chance to peek behind the Mulvaney family curtains.
As the two unravel a sinister plot, Asa’s obsession with Zane grows and Zane finds being Asa’s sole focus outweighs almost anything, maybe even his career–which is good for Asa because loving a Mulvaney is a full-time job. Can he convince Zane that he’s worth navigating a family of psychopaths and his pathologically jealous twin, or will Zane learn the hard way that the Mulvaney boys always get what they want? Always.
Headcase is a high heat, intense, lovers-to-frenemies, psychopath romance with an HEA and no cliffhangers. It features an obsessive, calculating psychopath and a wannabe reporter who will stop at nothing to earn himself a major byline. As always, there’s gratuitous violence, very dark humor, enough killers to fill an auditorium, and enough heat to melt your kindle. This is book 4 in the Necessary Evils series. Each book follows a different couple.
TAGS: psychopath romance, Asa is bored, Avi is jealous, Zane is pretty, Adam is still a dick, August is… August, Aiden’s still missing, Lucas is concerned, Atticus plays den mother to a gaggle of murderous young adults, Asa wants Zane but knows he suspects he’s a killer, Zane wants a story but can’t keep from falling into bed with his target, extra dark humor, found family, So. Many. Murderers, mysteries abound, bad boys doing bad things and each other, high non-relationship angst, low relationship angst, shmoop, fluff, smut.
Necessary Evils: Mad Man – Onley James
Avi Mulvaney is many things. Son. Twin. Owner of the fashion label, Gemini. Murderous psychopath. Together, he and his brother, Asa, make one brutally efficient monster, ridding the world of predators who victimize the innocent. History proves Avi and Asa don’t do well apart, but their father has decided to test that theory.
Felix Navarro knows exactly who he is. Baby brother. Fashionista. Vigilante. While he’s not happy that his big brother married a Mulvaney, the union has its perks. Like a paid internship with Gemini. But all good things come with a cost and, for Felix, that’s enduring Avi Mulvaney each day, which inevitably leads to thinking about him every night.
Felix doesn’t like Avi. He’s cocky, condescending, overbearing, and inappropriate. He’s also sexy, brilliant, and twice as lethal as Felix. Still, Felix loathes him. Even if he keeps letting him kiss him. And touch him. Even if he slipped just once. It was still hate sex, and it would never happen again. Ever.
Except, Avi’s being sent to help take down a dangerous crime ring and he’s ordered Felix to come along. Felix has vowed to stay strong. To remember he hates Avi. But they’re trapped together and there’s only one bed, and it’s so hard to hate Avi in the dark when he’s whispering how Felix belongs to him. Felix belongs to no man, but Avi is determined. He has one week to prove to Felix that he’s the exception to his rule. After all, who says no to a Mulvaney?
Mad Man is a scorchingly hot, intense, enemies to lovers, psychopath romance with an HEA and no cliffhangers. It features a dirty talking, brutally vicious killer and a sharp tongued murderous fashionista who are both too stubborn for their own good. As always, there’s gratuitous violence, very dark humor, enough blood to film the final scene in the movie Carrie, and enough heat to melt your panties. This is book 5 in the Necessary Evils series. Each book follows a different couple.
TAGS: psychopath, enemies-to-loves, dark humor, much violence, jealousy, bad boys doing bad things, long distance snark, only one bed, hate sex, more hate sex, hate sex that becomes apathetic sex then maybe something like love, if two killers are better than one what’s three killers, Avi is jealous, Asa is preoccupied, August is still August, Lucas is frazzed, Archer is still drunk, Thomas is at his wits end, Aiden is still in denial, Noah is still the psychopath whisperer and Adam is still a dick.
The twins were separated by Thomas as an experiment. Neither of them copes well with separations. And a bored Murder twin always spells T.R.O.U.B.L.E.
Asa is the dominant twin, so his book, Headcase, came first. This guy loves to hunt and play rough. That his person is a sweet and adorkable tabloid reporter plays really well into his dominant side and his daredevil personality.
Zane, what the hell had you gotten yourself into? This dork is the luckiest unlucky tabloid reporter out there. He finagled his way into an exclusive event to get the dirt on the Mulvaneys, met Asa, was taken home, discovered exactly how rough Asa likes it. Then, realizes he just stumbled into a family of serials killers. Asa refused to let him go.
Like the other Mulvaney boys, Asa didn’t waste time declaring Zane was his. The intrepid reporter put up a half-hearted fight before giving in because of course. Together, they try to untangle the mystery of a secret game that drives young college students to kill themselves.
The mystery really intrigued me because it was unusual and hard to solve. It gave me the chills to find out later on, it was based on a real-life internet game that targeted children. This is the best case in the series so far. Watch out for cameos by Dmitri and his little Arlo.
A huge chunk of the book is steam. I know Zane enjoys it, but I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the injury-inducing sex. BDSM is really not my thing. I kinda feel sorry for him looking like a battered boyfriend all the time. And he has to wear concealer in public, or else people would think Asa is an abuser. But, it’s their thing, they enjoy it, and they’re perfect for each other.
While Asa was with Zane, Avi was on the other side of the country with Felix. They were helping Aidan. They were investigating a case where a seemingly random bunch of people died. Aidan found the connection and is looking for the perpetrator.
Mad Man is Avi’s book. He is the twin who likes to serve. He enjoys pain and is also the more reckless of the two. I loved his wicked sense of humor. I could always clearly picture his glee every time they employed more creative ways to punish the bad guys.
Felix is the diva brother of Jericho, Atticus’ husband. He interns in Avi’s clothing company. He’s deadly, sharp, and talented. And bossy too. Exactly how Avi likes it. The man has been trying to get in his pants since they met. Felix put up a good fight, but they both know it’s only a matter of when. Boy is not so secretly crushing on his boss.
I didn’t warm up to Felix all the way. I found him too abrasive, too full of himself. It was only later on, when more of his personality and backstory was revealed, that I felt a stab of sympathy for him. Still, he’s my least favorite character in the entire series.
My favorite part was how Felix and Zane latched on to each other. Total friendship goals! There’s no sharing, mind you. The four became a mini-family within a family, and Felix became Zane’s emotional support person. It was all very cute and cozy.
Headcase and Mad Man is one story split in half. Asa and Avi are mirror twins. It’s very apt that their stories follow that symmetry. Each found yin to their yang without losing that special connection that makes the two of them a symbiotic unit.
The twins came off the market at the same time. It’s brilliant how the author choreographed the plots to get to that point, juggled all the various and many larger-than-life personalities without anyone being left out, and teased a.k.a. tortured us with threads of Thomas and Aidan’s story without missing a beat.
All in all, not perfect but you know what they say, double the trouble, double the fun!
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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The Formicary: Chrysalis – S.E. Harmon
A gunshot to the head is bad enough. Waking up with amnesia is far worse. I learn that the hard way when I wake up in the hospital, my memory practically wiped. I don’t know why someone wants me dead. Hell, I don’t even know my name. They say my name is Christian Cross. Too bad that name means nothing to me.
I haven’t forgotten everything, though. Grayson Laurie has always been my kryptonite, and it would take more than a bullet to the brain to forget him. He assures me that I’m imagining the distance between us, but I know better. I just don’t know how to fix it. I console myself that at least I’ve reached rock bottom and things can’t get worse…until they do.
My life is a tangled mess of lies and deceit. The more I learn about myself, the less I want to know. I want nothing more than an honest future with Gray, but the past isn’t about to let me go without a fight.
Fortunately, I’m starting to realize that fighting is my specialty.
To paraphrase one of the characters, amnesia is something we mostly see in Days Of Our Lives. I find this trope cheesy because of how it’s overused in soaps. But the blurb of the book immediately piqued my interest.
Chrysalis is the first book of The Formicary duology. Christian Cross wakes up in the hospital with no memory of anything, not even his name. The only thing he remembers is the memory of Dr. Grayson Laurie, his boyfriend. The hospital staff told him he was shot in the head. Gray told Chris, the amnesiac ghosted him four years ago and that the doctor is now in another relationship. To make matters worse, some very dangerous people were after Chris, who had no idea why.
The book follows Chris as he traces clues to his identity, fights off the bad guys and wins back the love of his life. Rather than a rebirth, as the title might suggest, this is a return to an old secret life he kept from Gray.
The story is told from a first-person POV. One thing that stood out is that Chris is prone to unnecessary jokes that are not exactly funny or witty. The writing is fast-paced and tight enough to keep the momentum going, but Chris’ little asides don’t really add anything.
However, there is nothing cheesy with how the amnesia trope was deployed. This is one of the better uses of the trope. It worked exceptionally well with the mystery. It is exactly as the blurb says, and I was completely hooked!
I really enjoyed tagging along with Chris as he stumbles upon the bits and pieces of his old life. There were big hints, like the extra body parts and ninja fighting skills, that helped me suss out who or what Christian is. But even knowing that, the air of intrigue and anticipation remained high until the end. Also, despite his bad jokes, the man is an entertaining narrator.
The second chance romance was also wonderfully executed! There’s some push and pull between the MCs because Gray was hurt, and Christian might disappear again. But Chris’ devotion to Gray was pretty obvious from the start, and it was also clear that Gray still has strong feelings for his ex. Their chemistry jumps off the page! I loved watching them find each other again and again.
Gray’s current boyfriend is a non-entity who soon exited so there’s no cheating here. The book is not a standalone. It ends with a cliffhanger so best to have the second book on hand before starting.
Chrysalis has mystery, action, yeah okay, maybe some humor, a couple of painful separations, and long-overdue reunions. It is about a man looking for answers. It delivers those answers in one suspenseful, gripping package. It’s not the most memorable but it’s certainly worth remembering.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Fallen Messengers: Fractured Souls – Ava Marie Salinger
Humans are dying in San Francisco. The most shunned angel on Earth may very well hold the key as to why…
When Cassius Black moves to San Francisco for a fresh start, the angel’s hopes of staying below the radar of the supernatural organizations that oversee the otherworldly and magic users in the city are dashed when he stumbles across a dead body in the sewers. His grim discovery soon puts him in the sight of the Argonaut Agency and Francis Strickland, the bureau director who knows his darkest secrets.
Morgan King and his team of Argonaut agents have been hunting for the culprits behind a series of gruesome killings that have rocked the city all summer. Killings that bear sinister hallmarks of sacrificial rituals where the victims’ souls have been ripped from their bodies. When Fate brings Cassius in Morgan’s path, he realizes the angel everyone likes to call The Devil may very well be the only person who can help them track down the murderers.
Morgan and Cassius soon find themselves chasing down a sect of black magic sorcerers and cross paths with a mysterious warlock whose actions evoke disturbing echoes of an incident from Cassius’s past. As rumors of a potential plot to tear the Nether reach their ears, Cassius and Morgan must work together to defeat their common enemy and save the city from destruction, all while fighting their growing attraction for one another.
Fractured Souls is the first novel in the MM urban fantasy romance series Fallen Messengers. If you like action-packed paranormal adventures with romance and snark, then get this pulse-pounding book today and enter a world you won’t want to leave!
If I make a list of books I’d love to see as a movie, Fractured Souls would definitely be on it. This book delivers the action-packed paranormal adventure it promised.
Fractured Souls is the first book of Fallen Messengers, an urban fantasy/paranormal series set in a world after The Fall. There was a huge rift, and all manner of magical and mythical creatures now walked the earth. Four major organizations are in charge of keeping supernatural creatures in line.
The world-building is exceptionally detailed without overwhelming or bogging down the pace. I loved this world of the Fallen the author created. It’s incredibly fascinating to read about beings from the deepest pits of hell and from the highest hierarchies of heaven.
I liked the writing as well. It flowed smoothly and briskly, but major credit is also due to narrator Alex Kydd’s masterful delivery. He did an awesome job bringing the characters to life and made going through the info-dumps a breeze.
The story is told in the POVs of the angel, Cassius Black, a much-feared pariah in the supernatural world, and cocky Argonaut agent, Morgan King, also an angel. They were forced to work together to solve the mystery of the ‘fractured souls’ and prevent another rift from happening. The bigger mystery here is who or what exactly are Cassius Black and Morgan King?
I liked Cass from the get-go. As the story progressed, it became apparent that Cass was so much more powerful than he already was. It was also revealed that while he is the most reviled and hated creature on earth, the unassuming man is actually a self-sacrificing cinnamon roll worthy of the highest sainthood. This is the guy who secretly saved the world and continues to do so as we speak. That he is a bit of a tsundere only added to his appeal.
I didn’t like Morgan at first. Probably still don’t like him 100%. He was a pushy asshole. He kinda redeemed himself when it became clear he wasn’t taking any of the shit people throw at Cass, and he’s going to break the neck of the next person who is mean to the poor angel. I’ll go easy on him since he has Cassius’ back, and they’re great as a team.
Not sure I’m totally onboard with Cassius and Morgan’s romance. Their chemistry didn’t come across as strongly as I would have liked. Although, the story did a good job building up the mystery relating to their true identities and their connection. I’ve read other reviews extolling the virtues of Victor, Cass’s demon ex. I prefer an angel-demon merger, so I couldn’t help wishing this was their story instead.
The rest of the cast drew me in almost immediately. They are from Morgan’s team. I enjoyed the banters and their various personal connections to each other. My favorite part was how they took Cassius to their fold after knowing his innate goodness and became his biggest allies.
The coolest part of the book is the fight scenes. Oh hell yeah! You get mind-blowing displays of powers from various supernatural creatures. From angels and demons to witches and mages, no one held anything back. I think it would look super mega fantastic on screen!
It did feel a bit too Son Goku, the way Cass’s and Morgan’s powers kept leveling up and up and up. And up. But it didn’t dampen the experience because the scenes was all friggin’ AMAZING!!! And I adore Cass and enjoy seeing him so badass. Also, I love superhero movies and superpowers, so I was living for everything!
Fractured Souls is an action-packed series opener, where the fallen walk the earth and demons rise from the pits of hell. It got all the snark and romance, magic and mayhem you could ever ask for. All in all, fascinating, entertaining, and hella spectacular!
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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I grabbed this series on a whim because I like the word ‘solnyshko.’ I was glad it was the weekend because I ended up reading until 5:00 AM. I finished the first book in one sitting. This duet is just sooo good.
Now this might not be most people’s cup of tea. This comes with a list of warnings, from homophobia to graphic violence and PTSD. Things get nasty, even horrific, at some points. So please do head the TWs.
Beyond all that darkness, this is a story of ‘two broken people who found each other,‘ according to the author’s notes. It all started with a kidnapping…
The Solnyshko Duet: The Kidnapping Of Roan Sinclair – Ashlyn Drewek
Roan Sinclair’s life is perfect, just ask anyone. Set to graduate college and bound for grad school at Georgetown, Roan’s life has been all planned out for him. Except, he doesn’t want it. Dedicated to his music, he dreams of a life free from his parents’ expectations. Those dreams are gone the minute he’s kidnapped by a group of Russians, led by the tall, dark, and broody Sasha — a man ripped straight from Roan’s fantasies. Determined to make it out alive, Roan will do whatever is necessary to secure his freedom, even if that means seducing his captor.
Aleksandr Vassiliev doesn’t care about anything except surviving in a merciless world. Known as the Wolf of Verkhoyansk, Sasha’s reputation for brutality is far-reaching and well-deserved. When a bank robbery goes wrong, he’ll do whatever he can to fix it — including kidnapping the bank owner’s son. Instead of complying like he should, Roan defies Sasha at every turn. Worst of all, he makes Sasha want things he can’t have, things that are a death sentence for men like him. Things like Roan Sinclair.
Content warning: This book contains references to alcohol/drug use, sexual assault, graphic violence, self-harm, ethnic and homosexual slurs, and a lot of profanity. Reader discretion is advised.
Roan Sinclair is a poor little rich boy trapped in a gilded cage. Music is his passion, but his banker dad blackmailed him to take a business major. He has one year to go before he leaves for business school.
Aleksandr ‘Sacha’ Vassiliev is a feared, ruthless killer, not a bank robber and certainly not a kidnapper. But when a bank heist had gone wrong, a heist they didn’t fully understand why they had to do, he and his fellow bratva members were forced to change tactics. They kidnapped the banker’s son instead.
It wasn’t the most ideal meeting, to say the least, but right from the get-go, Roan got under Sacha’s skin. Given his environment, the Russian is deeply in the closet. But he pinged Roan’s gaydar, and our boy used it to his advantage.
One of the things I really loved about the books was the writing. There were no long paragraphs, and it’s very easy to read. The prose is straight to the point. Just 3-4 sentences per paragraph, yet they conveyed everything the reader needs to know. You feel the emotions jumping off the page. The graphic bits were written to show the nastiness without being gratuitous.
Thawing the cold, dead heart of a man like Sacha is an impossible feat. Our boy Roan not only brought it back to life, but he became the center of Sacha’s universe. I was completely riveted to their journey, swept away by a tide of emotions. The story is devastating, painful, and, as mentioned, quite dark. But the lighter moments when they come is as heart-warming and bright as the proverbial solnyshko the duet is named after.
It ends with a HFN but this is one of the best Stockholm Syndrome romances for me!
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
The Solnyshko Duet: The Vengeance Of Roan Sinclair – Ashlyn Drewek
After a lifetime of death and suffering, Aleksandr Vassiliev finally has everything he could ever want — the most important being someone to share his future with. Somehow a spoiled American named Roan gave Sasha a reason to see life could be more. Except, that’s where the fairytale ends. He’s not surprised Roan hasn’t been the same since his attack, but with every day that passes, Sasha sees less and less of the boy he fell in love with. He would do anything to get his Solnyshko back, but old enemies from Sasha’s past might end up costing him everything, even Roan.
Roan Sinclair used to have it all. Now? He’s a shell of his former self. No longer the rich, carefree college guy who brought a Russian criminal to his knees, all he’s trying to do is recover from an assault that nearly killed him. Roan knows he should be grateful to be alive… but he’s not. He’s humiliated. Ashamed. Most of all, he’s angry. He hasn’t forgotten the part his dad played in everything that happened and when he threatens Sasha’s freedom, Roan takes a page from the Russian’s playbook. Maybe vengeance will piece him back together. Maybe then Roan can move on and get to the happily ever after he so desperately wants with the Wolf of Verkhoyansk.
Content warning: This book contains references to alcohol/smoking, ethnic and homosexual slurs, sexual assault, mental health issues including PTSD and depression, on-page torture, and a lot of profanity. Reader discretion is advised.
The second book picks up on the aftermath of the very traumatic events of Book 1. Roan is not in a good place, and Sacha is at his wit’s end. He does everything he thinks would help Roan, but the younger man isn’t taking it well.
Here we have the major presence of Misha, Sacha’s boss, who is also sort of a friend and Misha’s nephew, Ilya. Sacha hired the young man to be Roan’s bodyguard. The easy going man provided a normalcy in Roan’s life during these troubled times.
Misha has intrigued me since Book 1. He offers Sacha advice on his Roan situation. Where Sacha is a grumpy mofo, Misha is all easy smiles. But make no mistake, they are both wolves. I am so thrilled the bratva boss is going to have his own book!
I struggled for a bit in the first part because going through Sacha and Roan’s rocky patch wasn’t a pleasant experience. It was angsty and raw. Communication isn’t their strongest suit, and you can really feel how bad they were struggling. All of these is worth going through just to get to the part where Roan smiles and Sacha declares, his sun is back!
And that’s when we get to the vengeance portion of the story. Roan wants revenge for what his father did, and a ghost from the past is out to get Sacha. I really enjoyed this arc because it felt happier and lighter despite the gruesome bratva business.
Sacha and Roan evolved to become the power couple they were meant to be. The pace here was also smoother and faster, and there was more action. Characters from the author’s other series popped up, the very mysterious Leander and his flamboyant husband, Bennet. I must investigate these two.
Both books go through suspenseful, brutal climaxes where the piper is paid in blood and gore. But this time, the ending is a solid and very satisfying HEA. It was such a sweet and uplifting conclusion that sensation of relief was very palpable. I couldn’t ask for a better one for Sasha and Roan! Sometimes all you need in life is a new lease and some sunshine.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
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This is a round up of the books I read on the 1st quarter of this year that I’m too lazy to do a full review.
Thick As Thieves – Lucy Lennox
I’ve been in love with my best friend since forever. Okay, fine. Like, kindgergarten. It started out platonic, obviously, but then became… nope. Still platonic. The problem is that Parker Ellis has been straight since forever. And that makes it difficult to convince him the two of us are meant to be together.
And now there’s no point. All is lost. He’s gone and gotten engaged to his high-school sweetheart which means I have to grin and bear it while pretending to be the happy, supportive best man while he prepares to commit his life to a woman I can’t even fault. She’s great. We’ve all been friends forever. I know he’ll be happy with Erin, just not… just not as happy as he could be with me.
I’ll admit. Sometimes I press the easy button. Like when Julian Thick had offered me half his sandwich back in grade school after noticing I didn’t have any food. Or when I’d needed a date to homecoming in tenth grade and Erin told me she was it. Or when I’d used the one thing that came easy to me, skiing, to get my college tuition paid for. Or when Erin had showed back up in my life six months ago and told it was time to marry and start a family…
But for the first time in my life I’m facing something that’s not at all easy. It’s my wedding weekend and I’ve just been left at the altar. Not only that, but when my best friend whisks me away to drown my sorrows in a snowy cabin in Aster Valley, I accidentally discover Julian’s been keeping secrets. Big secrets.
The kind of secrets that lead to hot experimental kisses in front of a blazing fire, tentative physical exploration in a way I’d never imagined before, and the kind of intimate, true confessions I’d never even dreamed of between me and the one person who’s always been my true home.
But after twenty-plus years of thinking of Jules as my friend without benefits, is it truly possible to change who we are to each other? There’s no easy button this time, but I’m willing to do the work. I only wonder if Julian is ready to trust I really mean it.
This outstanding contemporary romance series makes another stop in the idyllic town of Aster Valley with this deliciously pine-y childhood friends-to-lovers tale.
Thick As Thieves is about lawyer Julian Thick being hopelessly in love with his best friend, Parker Ellis, since kindergarten. As these things usually go, Parker is spectacularly oblivious to Jules’ more than friendly feelings for him.
Now Parks has been dating their other friend, Erin, on and off for years. They’re finally going to tie the knot. On the day of the wedding, Erin ghosted. Ever the loyal friend, Jules takes Parker to his secluded cabin in Aster Valley to console him. The very cabin he intended to be his wallowing hole where he drinks his feelings to oblivion and gets over Parks once and for all.
This is where things heated up because Parker is coming to realize his feelings for Julian, not just now but since the beginning, has always been something more. This, after fending off a Grinder hook-up who turned up at the cabin. One sent to Jules by their well-meaning a.k.a. meddling friends.
I love all the Aster Valley books. This one is as fabulous as the rest. It is a great example of why the friends-to-lovers trope is so squee-tastic. There are a million takes on the trope, but Lucy Lennox still made it fresh, exciting, and HELLA SWOONY!!!
Jules and Parks have known each other all their lives so the chemistry is pretty much a given, but no less fantastic. Their relationship felt comfortable and solid as friends. Their transition to boyfriends happened very naturally. There was a sense of rightness to it as things clicked into place. There’s something so beautiful about two people who are always meant to be together fulfilling that destiny and finding their HEA.
My heart went out to Julian. He practically endured everything for his best friend. Parker is a doofus for not recognizing his feelings for his best friend for that long. But when he realized he was in love with Jules, he was all in, 101%. They’re amazing together!
Hands down, my favorite part was the contract. Young Jules and Parks signed a piece of paper with the words “You and Me. Always” written on it. Unknown to Parker, Jules held on to that piece of paper for decades. That scene where he discovered it, I was as blown away as Parker! It was just sooo sweet and so Julian!
Much later, cheesy sappy guy that he is, Parker amended the contract. And blew Jules away.
One of the themes is how safety nets could become bad habits. This is shown through Erin, who wants to be adventurous, but returns to Parker again and again because she feels comfortable with him. She is not evil. Mostly, she’s a confused person who doesn’t take responsibility for her actions and doesn’t know what she wants from life.
Here’s the thing with this series. I’ve come across real vile villains in many books, but I have never been affected by any of them. Here, the antagonists are ordinary people who are merely unlikeable, yet their scenes make me feel so bad they take me out of the story. The author really knows how to get under the readers’ skin.
It happened again with Erin’s scene. Parker had a long overdue talk with her. I know it was needed for closure and clearing the way for Jules. But it went on for so long. It was repetitive and just plain tiresome. I felt so bored I nearly dropped the book. I held on because I was rooting really hard for Jules and Parker, and they’re close to the finish line.
Overall, Thick As Thieves is a fulfillment of a promise backed by 20 years of memories, unrequited feelings, and loyal friendship. It’s heartwarming, sweet, cheesy, and a damn good reason to stay in Aster Valley, always.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Thick As Thieves can be read as a standalone but why miss out on the other charming men of Aster Valley?
Witness a dreamy rock star romance in Winter Waites.
Meet the sassy chef and his adoring football player in Right As Raine.
There’s an adorkable bumblebee in need of a knight in shining motorbike in Sweet As Honey
A starstruck sheriff clashes with a trouble magnet in Hot As Heller
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