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    SERIES REVIEW: The Wyandot County Mysteries Books 1 & 2 by Marshall Thornton

    The Wyandot County Mysteries: The Less Than Spectacular Times of Henry Milch – Marshall Thornton

    A new mystery series from the award-winning author of the Boystown and Pinx Mystery series.

    Things have not been going well for Henry Milch. After a Saturday night clubbing in his beloved West Hollywood, he took one pill too many and ended up banished to northern lower Michigan to live on a farm with his ultra-conservative grandmother. It was that or rehab.

    While working a part-time job for the local land conservancy he stumbles across a dead body in the snow—as if things couldn’t get worse. But then things take a turn for the better, there’s a reward for information leading the man’s killer. All Henry has to do is find the murderer, claim the reward and he can go back to his real life in L.A.


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

    Soundtrack: Town
    Artist: CASTLEBEAT
    Album: VHS


    The Wyandot County Mysteries: A Fabulous Unfabulous Summer for Henry Milch- Marshall Thornton

    In the second Wyandot County Mystery, things are still not going well for Henry Milch. While stuck in Northern Lower Michigan helping his Nana Cole recover from a stroke, he learns that her favorite pastor has been killed. When Nana Cole asks him to investigate, he refuses—until she offers him money. Money that will help him get back to real life in West Hollywood. That sets Henry off on a journey that includes: off-key choir rehearsals, pole barns, bad haircuts, a hunky doctor and too many get-well-soon casseroles.


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

    Soundtrack: Big City Dreams
    Artist: Might Not feat. Sofia Insua
    Album:


    The Wyandot County Mysteries by Marshall Thornton is an LGBTQIA+ murder mystery series I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did. It did not have the usual romantic subplot, nor is it cozy. It contains many undesirable elements, yet I was completely hooked!

    The series is set in the early 2000s, so people watched cable TV, landlines were still ubiquitous, cell phones were flip phones, and the It gadgets were those colored Macbooks that look so retro now. The news often talks about the war, and people would mention updates about sons or grandsons deployed in the Middle East. 

    The star of the series, Henry Milch, well, I wouldn’t say he’s a likable character. Vapid, spectacularly self-absorbed, has nothing but uncharitable comments about everyone. In another story, Henry would be the bitchy ex the main character would dump to be with the love interest. Or that friend who’s always a hot mess

    Henry used to live in LA, but after an incident that left him with costly hospital bills, he’s broke and now lives with his Nana Cole in a small town in Wyandot County. Henry hates it. One reason is he’s shoved back in the closet. He has big plans to return to LA once he has enough money. And this kicks off the first mystery.

    The Less Than Spectacular Times of Henry Milch opens the series. Henry discovered the dead body of Sammy Hart, an out-and-proud gay man. The police weren’t making any efforts to solve the case, so Sammy’s friends offered $15,000 to anyone with information about the killer.

    Jumping at the chance to earn the reward, Henry decided to investigate, calling upon the knowledge he picked up from CSI and True Crime.

    In A Fabulous Unfabulous Summer for Henry Milch, Henry was offered $2000 by his Nana to find out what really happened to the dead pastor of their church. The man was bludgeoned to death. The police said he was robbed by a meth addict, but Henry thought otherwise.

    Still lacking enough funds to move to LA, Henry decided to humor his grandmother and started asking enough questions in an attempt to earn the money.

    He struck an antagonistic friendship with Opal, a bisexual a friend of the late Sammy Hart, who helped pooled money for the reward. Henry calls her only when he needs something, and Opal never hesitates to call him on his BS. Born and raised in the area, Opal knows everyone, including suppliers of illicit substances.

    Content warning: Henry is very much in denial about his drug addiction, and he’s frequently popping pills. In one very, very gross scene, he seriously contemplated fishing out the pills he puked floating in the toilet bowl so they don’t go to waste. He came to his senses when he realized that’s what drug addicts do, and he tells himself he’s not an addict.

    He sleeps with a few guys, most of them forgettable. One time, he dated a gorgeous doctor, a genuinely nice guy very much attracted to Henry. In your usual MM romance, this doctor would be The One. Of course, Henry fucked it up by refusing to give up his pills after the good doctor offered to help him overcome his addiction.

    Henry’s relationship with his mother and grandmother is complicated. His mother goes from boyfriend to boyfriend and has a casual parenting style, a.k.a. mostly absent. His mother and grandmother rarely agreed on anything, but surprisingly, they did when it came to him.

    Nana Cole is from one of the old families of the county, with typical Christian conservative views. They frequently butt heads. But even with their differences, it’s obvious that Nana Cole cares for her grandchild. Henry is determined not to like his Nana, but he also did not abandon her when she had her stroke.

    As an amateur sleuth, Henry notices things that don’t add up but have zero finesse in dealing with people. He just point-blank asks questions. He’s also not above using people to get what he wants. Given his bull-in-a-china shop approach, it was a wonder Henry got answers from the conservative folks of the county.

    With such a flawed character taking the lead, the entire thing wouldn’t have worked. But the author magically made the storytelling so damned engaging, even if I didn’t like Henry at all. He takes us to a scathingly humorous fish-out-of-water view of small-town Michigan with many comparisons and palpable longing for the big city way of life.

    Many times, I would think, “What a bitchy thing to say, Henry!” while at the same time thinking, “He’s got a point, though.” This leads us to another content warning: Henry’s views about religion and small-town life may offend some.

    The Wyandot County Mysteries is one of those mystery stories where I just enjoyed tagging along with our unlikely sleuth, not really caring about who killed who. The cases propel Henry to begrudgingly learn more about his hometown and its people. Twice, he’s on the cusp of leaving, but something or other would prevent him from hightailing it to LA.

    Would this snarky twink finally say adios to Wyandot to party and play in LA, or would he feel enough of a connection to the place to call it home?

    Maybe the third time’s a charm for our boy. Looking forward to Book 3. Because one thing about a hot mess like Henry: he’s never boring!

    P.S.

    The Wyandot County Mysteries should be read in order.


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    REVIEW: His Sinful Need by Leighton Greene

    West Coast Mobsters: His Sinful Need by Leighton Greene

    Two men. Two Families. Too many secrets.When Castellani security specialist Max Pedretti is reluctantly loaned out to the Esposito Family, he’s thrust into close quarters with their youngest Capo, Bricker Soldano. The magnetic pull between them is undeniable, but Bricker is strictly off-limits, for multiple reasons.

    For one thing, he’s an Esposito.

    For another, he’s half Max’s age.

    But most of all, because Max shares a hidden criminal history with Bricker’s father—a secret that could shatter the tentative trust building between them.

    So Max vows to focus on the job instead, and finds his old skills as a bank robber are put to the test as he works with Bricker and his crew on a heist that could change the power dynamics in Los Angeles.

    But when a tragedy reveals a mole in their midst, Max and Bricker must investigate together to uncover the truth, blurring the lines of loyalty and desire.

    Can Max and Bricker uncover the traitor and find their way to love, or will past sins cost them everything?

    ***

    Each book in this series tells the love story of a different couple who find their happy ending, as well as a resolution to the mystery they’re investigating, but there are cliffhangers to the wider suspense plot for the series.


    Massimo Pedretti is a man who smells like aftershave and gunpowder. A good smell for a security specialist, according to the sharp-nosed Julian Castellani in Book 3, His Fatal Love. Next to his underboss, Jack Jacopo (His Lethal Desire), and his brother Julian, Max is the other person Don Alessandro Castellani (His Brutal Heart) depends on the most.

    His Sinful Need is Book 4 of West Coast Mobsters. Each  book features a West Coast Family, from the Castellanis, Bernardis, and now, the Espositos. This Family is unique in that they accept women in their ranks, and they rarely interact with other Families. 

    The head of the Espositos is the formidable Maestra Anna-Vittoria Esposito. She specifically requested Max to work with them, cashing in the favor Alessandro owed her. He is to join the team headed by Bricker Soldano, a young capo almost half his age.

    Half of Bricker’s team is experienced, and the other half green-as-grass rookies who can barely shoot. They are preparing for a bank heist, but most of their practice runs end in disasters, so Bricker was forced to admit there is a mole in their ranks. And whether he admit or not, he could use the help of a veteran in the field like Max. But can the Castellani be trusted?

    I’m not sure whether it is because I skipped the sex scenes since I am not a fan of age gap romance, but Max and Bricker’s book felt different than the rest of the books. Not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just there are less sex-related thoughts than the rest.

    Max’s internal dialogues are more about the missions and the angst over secrets from the past that might come back to bite him in the ass. There’s some worrying over his attraction, the age gap and Bricker’s connection to a ghost from the past.

    I loved Max! He oozes calm, confidence and dependability that jump off the page. This is also why his book feels less hectic and less violent than the rest. It’s like you know things will be okay because Max.

    With twenty-odd years in Castellani service, he is fiercely loyal and well-liked in the Family. It may have been a surprise that he was chosen, but still fitting because no one else would be a better envoy to the Esposito Family than Max.

    Bricker’s lusting after the older man, but it’s mixed with suspicions and worry over who to trust. As the youngest Esposito capo, he’s eager to prove himself and his team.

    I’m neutral about Bricker. There’s a lot of hot/cold treatment from him, but he’s a good leader who cares for his team like a family. I loved that he doesn’t do shortcuts when preparing his team for their missions, ensuring not just success but everyone’s safety as well.

    The plot weaves an age gap romance, trust issues, mafia politics, action, and several major and minor mysteries, some nothing more than a casual mention that you know will be pick up again in the future. The mole was easy to guess, and the romance wasn’t doing it for me, but I still loved this book.

    My favorite is the revelations regarding the Espositos, proving that the enigmatic Anna-Vittoria has a heart underneath the iron will. I loved how the WCM and Morelli Family world expanded, satisfying my curiosity that was piqued since mentions of how aloof, unique and mysterious the Espositos are from the previous books.

    Every Castellani cameo gave me life. Our boy Jack, always gregarious but deadly. Julian was particularly significant as the man is the dreaded bogeyman of the West Coast. I enjoyed seeing Sandro as the mighty Don Castellani from another person’s POV. I need another Sandro and Teddy book!!!

    HIs Sinful Need didn’t have the sizzling chemistry like the other WCM books, but it’s still a solid installment. The thrill is in the revelations of family dynamics, the twisty turn-y mafia politics, and the interactions of well-loved characters who rule the West Coast. All in all, steadily gripping, wholly likable, not that sinful, totally necessary.

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

    Soundtrack: Trust
    Artist: Half-Alive
    Album: Now, Not Yet

    P.S.

    West Coast Mobsters should be read in order. Last time, I realized the WCM books are retellings.

    His Lethal Desire is Cinderfella falling in love with a hitman. His Brutal Heart is Beauty and the Beast with a cyber twist. And His Fatal Love is Romeo and Julian, BDSM style.

    I can’t still figure out which retelling His Sinful Need is. Let me know if you know.


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    REVIEW: His Fatal Love by Leighton Greene

    West Coast Mobsters: His Fatal Love – Leighton Greene

    Easily bored, completely manipulative, and utterly deadly…and that’s just in bed.

    As an assassin for the Castellani Family, I live for the thrill of the job.
    I’m devoted to my Family and my Don, because they keep me safe.

    To Leo Bernardi, I’m a monster.
    A killing machine.
    And a puppet that his Family can use for their own ends.

    To me, Leo is just a pawn in a game that I’m playing.
    A means to an end.
    And if I have a little fun with him along the way, who cares?

    Leo thinks he can seduce me. Tame me. Use me.
    In this game of cat and mouse, the Bernardi Lion is about to get a big surprise.

    But the more entangled we become, the more I start to feel…

    Things I didn’t think I was capable of feeling.

    Things I’ve never wanted to feel.

    In my line of work, love is a fatal flaw. But the more time we spend together, the harder I fall.

    Leo Bernardi is my greatest enemy…
    Could he also be my greatest love?

    **

    Dive into a forbidden romance between a psychopath assassin and a Mob Enforcer. Get ready for seductions and betrayals, scorching love scenes, and an unforgettable romance as a cold case comes back to haunt two Families sworn to destroy each other.


    If you have read the Morelli Family series, Julian Castellani most likely made himself memorable with his specially made intimate jewelry, attempting to seduce a well-placed Morelli. Unlike Alessandro, who prefers a low-key profile, this Castellani brother embraces the limelight and his notoriety.

    His Fatal Love is Julian investigating the murder of his beloved mother he witnessed when he was five years old. A lil mystery that I didn’t realize until the big twist was revealed was why Julian was questioning the identity of the killer despite seeing the crime happening right before his eyes.

    Julian has been called many names, psychopath being one. To which he is quick to reply, “undiagnosed“. An expert assassin on par with Jack, Julian is practically a ninja the way he can go in and out any tightly guarded place. He either feels nothing or feels too much, no in-betweens.

    Two complicated relationships are with Alessandro and Jack.

    Alessandro and Julian have always been antagonistic. There were even moments I felt Julian was going to kill his brother. Book 2, His Brutal Heart, put that to rest, and happily, Alessandro and Julian have somehow come to a truce, and along with Jack coming back to the fold, it makes for a stronger Castellani Family.

    I think Julian has a teeny-tiny bit of brother complex. Alessandro has a thing for blonds, and light-haired Julian always tries to provoke his brother by mentioning this in his on-going game of notice me, onii-chan.

    Also, the way he describes Alessandro by smell that was somewhat too intimate for brothers, even half-brothers. Turns out, he catalogues everyone’s smell. There’s a reason for this and I loved the stealthy way the story connected it to everything that’s happening.

    Trust is one of the major themes, and Julian is known to be spectacularly untrustworthy. Jack, the top Castellani assassin from His Lethal Desire, wouldn’t let his boyfriend, Miller, anywhere near the younger Castellani.

    When Jack tried to explain what trust is and why he doesn’t trust him, Julian struggled to understand the concept. This psychopath assassin is somebody who will kiss you passionately then, quick as a snap, give you a Sparta kick down an oubliette. 

    As Leo Bernardi discovered.

    Leo is the second son of Don Bernardi and works as the Enforcer. He struggling to gain his father’s respect, which was doubly hard since his father is homophobic. The connection between the Bernardi Lion and Julian is a convoluted scheme cooked up by the don that makes use of the fact that Leo is gay and has to seduce the younger Castellani to the Bernardi side.

    The plot was a thrilling game of seduction, secret identities, double agents, hard bargains and rough sex. It was gripping and twisty turn-y, weaving Julian’s investigation and mafia politics with his character development, relationship with Alessandro, growing feelings between him and Leo, and a surprising secret vulnerability that explains many quirks.

    Leo might be less flashier than Julian, but the Bernardi Lion has a dominant presence, similar ruthlessness, and indomitable will to finish a mission. Used to being the brawn, he’s a lot smarter than he gives himself credit for.

    Leo is loyal to a fault but has no qualms withdrawing that loyalty when a person is no longer worthy of such gift. So when his loyalties shifted to Julian who earned it the hard way, it stayed with him for good.

    I couldn’t imagine before who Leighton Greene would pair Julian with. But now that I’ve meet him, Leo Bernardi is the perfect match. He softens Julian’s rougher edges without stifling the feral wildness that makes Julian who he is.

    We may have come from different worlds, but we fit together perfectly. We have our own secret language—a language of revenge, of love, of passion and violence.

    My favorite parts were the scenes where Julian was confused why his chest feels tight or almost painful. He was so endearingly bewildered, not realizing he was feeling emotions he never felt before. Feelings like concern, fear, happiness, and love. All because of Leo.

    His Fatal Love is a fascinating tale of vendetta, blood ties and Family vows. It is one man’s heart-opening journey and a second son coming into his own. All in all, intensely feral, wildly passionate and fatally emotional!

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

    Soundtrack: Love and War
    Artist: Fleurie
    Album: Love and War

    P.S.

    West Coast Mobsters should be read in order. They’re delicious mafia romances with a fairy tale flavor.

    Witness a Cinderfella hitman style in His Lethal Desire and a darker take on Beauty and the Beast in His Brutal Heart.


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