• book,  Uncategorized

    AUDIO REVIEW: Natural Twenty by Charlie Novak

    54853701. sy475

    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:


    If you like my content, please consider using my Amazon affiliate links below to get your copy of Natural Twenty books. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying Amazon purchases at no additional cost to you.

    KINDLE
    AUDIOBOOK
  • book,  Uncategorized

    REVIEW: Secret At Skull House by Josh Lanyon

    49090388. sy475

    Secrets and Scrabble: Secret At Skull House – Josh Lanyon

    Ellery Page is back–and in hot water again!

    Unlike everyone else in Pirate’s Cove, Ellery Page, aspiring screenwriter, reigning Scrabble champion, and occasionally clueless owner of the village’s only mystery bookstore, is anything but thrilled when famed horror author Brandon Abbott announces he’s purchased legendary Skull House and plans to live there permanently.

    Ellery and Brandon have history. Their relationship ended badly and the last thing Ellery wants is a chance to patch things up–especially when his relationship with Police Chief Jack Carson is just getting interesting. But then, maybe Brandon isn’t all that interested in getting back together either, because he seems a lot more interested in asking questions about the bloodstained past of his new home than discussing a possible future with Ellery. What is Brandon really up to?

    Ellery will have to unscramble that particular puzzle post haste. Because after his former flame disappears following their loud and public argument, Ellery seems to be Police Chief Carson’s first–and only–suspect.

    ***This story contains no on-screen sex or violence


    Once again, Ellery Page is the prime suspect for murder. The victim was his very, very unlikable ex, Brandon Abbott. I’m sure no tears were shed for this guy who always threw shade at Ellery every chance he got.

    You couldn’t help but love Ellery. Any other person would have sold the failing bookstore, packed his bags and hightailed it out of that murder island. Not Ellery. He was very determined to stick it out and make it work.

    He has a tendency to not so much as work his way into things but more of stumble his way into them. Like how his play became an unexpected comedic success when it was actually written as a serious story. Or suddenly realizing his scrabble pieces were pointing him in oddly case-specific directions.

    Jack Carson, the police chief, hinted here and there that there might be romantic interest in his Person Of Interest. He even outright asked him for a date. For which I’m giving a halle-fucking-luya about time! because the hot/cold treatment is killing Ellery and the rest of us poor readers here.

    I know I said before I would be okay if him and Jack will just be friends. Let me add a caveat that this is as long as the author don’t string us along in the future books.

    However, if these two keep on giving off those uber-tight USTs, which, for a book without anything explicit, Josh Lanyon managed to make quite palpable, I would riot if they don’t end up together.

    And that ending! Put us out of our misery please!

    Okay, so the mystery. I didn’t care about who killed Brandon Abbott. Like I said, the guy was an asshole. What kept me going was, first, the engaging storytelling coupled with great narration. The author always had a way of keeping me glued to the book. This is especially important because she always puts a lot of problematic characters. That’s why her books are a hit or miss for me. Mostly hit so far.

    Second, I enjoyed how she made Buck Island come to life. Ellery is surrounded by characters. As in “s/he is such a character!“. I think this is one of the perks of reading cozies, you get the quirky and the cutesy.

    Many of these people were native to Buck Island, The island transplants were forever seen as outsiders. Ellery is somewhere in between. His family has been in Buck Island since the beginning but he was from New York. This created an interesting dynamic between him and the rest of the islanders.

    Buck Island was built by pirates. There were some historical mansions own by the original founding families scattered throughout. One of these houses was own by the Page family. Skull House was also one of these historical structures and was the site of a murder and mysterious disappearance 20 years ago.

    I really liked how the local folklore and history were interwoven with the mystery. There were parallels between the past and present and true to form, Ellery stumbles into the one person connecting them all.

    But you know, if you think about it, for an island this small, there seemed to be too many murderers lurking about. Do cozies, or mysteries for that matter, always have to be about a murder? Could they just be about pirate treasures instead?

    At this point in time, Ellery should permanently change his FB / Twitter status to “I didn’t do it.”

    P.S.

    Find out how Ellery fared as a first-time murder suspect in Secrets and Scrabble book 1, Murder At Pirate’s Cove. Review here.

    Read reviews of Josh Lanyon’s hits and and misses here.

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: I Didn’t Do It
    Artist: Larry Warren
    Album: I Don’t Want To Sleep Because I’m In Wonderful Colorado!

  • book,  Uncategorized

    REVIEW: Murder at Pirate’s Cove by Josh Lanyon

    49090387. sy475

    Secrets and Scrabble: Murder at Pirate’s Cove – Josh Lanyon

    Ellery Page, aspiring screenwriter, Scrabble champion and guy-with-worst-luck-in-the-world-when-it-comes-to-dating, is ready to make a change. So when he learns he’s inherited both a failing bookstore and a falling-down mansion in the quaint seaside village of Pirate’s Cove on Buck Island, Rhode Island, it’s full steam ahead!

    Sure enough, the village is charming, its residents amusingly eccentric, and widowed police chief Jack Carson is decidedly yummy (though probably as straight as he is stern). However, the bookstore is failing, the mansion is falling down, and there’s that little drawback of finding rival bookseller–and head of the unwelcoming-committee–Trevor Maples dead during the annual Buccaneer Days celebration.

    Still, it could be worse. And once Police Chief Carson learns Trevor was killed with the cutlass hanging over the door of Ellery’s bookstore, it is.


    I’m super excited about this latest Josh Lanyon series!

    I read a lot of mysteries from procedurals to paranormals but I think this might be the first time I’ve come across a true blue MM cozy.

    Lanyon loves paying homage to classic golden age mysteries and to the genre as a whole which is something I really liked about her. Many of her MCs are mystery writers and/or bookstore owners, sometimes antique dealers, frequently with love interests involved in law enforcement.

    Her latest protagonist’s name is Ellery Page (love the name!). He is a screenwriter, an abysmally bad actor and the owner of Crow’s Nest, a failing bookstore inherited from a long-lost dead relative. He lives in a mansion that’s literally falling apart as we speak. Also inherited from said dead relative.

    I liked that the story was written in Ellery’s third person POV instead of a first person POV. As with most of her protagonists, his ‘voice’ brings in those colorful snarky descriptions frequently deployed by writers to make things more dramatic. I had fun going through his thoughts but I wish Lanyon would shake things up and write from the more stoic love interest’s POV too.

    As genre tradition dictates, our amateur sleuth pokes his nose into other people’s business in an effort to clear his name of murder. Most of it involved soliciting gossip from people who were very much willing to share. This is safe enough. But then there was one TSTL-ish moment when he did a little B & E on a dead man’s house. Aaargh!!! I was so exasperated! I wanted to smack him in the head for stupidity.

    We also meet Police Chief Jack Carson, the lead investigator of the case who time and time again warned Ellery to stay out of trouble. Carson is your usual Lanyon love interest. At first glance, an abrasive man of few words who as the story progressed would reveal his hidden not-so-bad-afterall side. This happens in almost every Lanyon book but somehow I’m not tired of it yet. I still get a thrill whenever the ‘good’ side is revealed

    He and Ellery oh so slowly edged towards a tentative friendship. And that’s all there is. This story has no romance and zero steam. This is a big plus for me.

    The story is set in a quaint seaside town of Pirate’s Cove. I’m the type of reader who typically gloss over descriptions of places so I’m glad that the book was able to establish a sense of place and town culture without boring me with too much details. We are also introduced to a fair share of quirky town fixtures sure to pop up in many of the books.

    I had a great time letting the story unfold. The mystery was a good one. I couldn’t guess who the murderer was until the very end. I only realized on hindsight that major clues were dropped and I totally missed them.

    Murder at Pirate’s Cove is a quintessential cozy. Even with the templates fully in place, they do not detract to how enjoyable everything is. The author was able to keep things fresh and engaging. All in all, this is a charming little addition to her oeuvre.

    Recommended if you like amateur sleuths who couldn’t lie to save their life, pirate cosplay murders and puppies who wouldn’t quit.

    P.S.

    Josh Lanyon books here.

    Rating:
    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

    Soundtrack: Trouble is a Friend
    Artist: Lenka
    Album: Lenka