Magic & Steam: The Gangster – C.S. Poe
1881—Special Agent Gillian Hamilton, magic caster for the Federal Bureau of Magic and Steam, has recovered from injuries obtained while in Shallow Grave, Arizona. Now back in New York City, Gillian makes an arrest on New Year’s Eve that leads to information on a gangster, known only as Tick Tock, who’s perfected utilizing elemental magic ammunition. This report complicates Gillian’s holiday plans, specifically those with infamous outlaw, Gunner the Deadly, who promised they’d ring in 1882 together.
The two men stand on the cusp of a romance that needs to be explored intimately and privately. But when Gillian’s residence is broken into by a magical mechanical man who tries to murder him on behalf of Tick Tock, he and Gunner must immediately investigate the city’s ruthless street gangs before the illegal magic becomes a threat that cannot be contained.
This might be their most wild adventure yet, but criminal undergrounds can’t compare to the dangers of the heart. Gillian must balance his career in law enforcement with his love for a vigilante, or lose both entirely.
The novel-length follow-up to The Engineer, in the exciting new steampunk series, Magic & Steam.
The Gangster is, hands down, C.S. Poe‘s best work to date. I was so blown away by this book! How is this not a movie already??!!
For me, the Magic & Steam series is very cinematic. Not just story-wise, it would also look really gorgeous on screen. The world-building is a steampunk dream! For the first book, The Engineer, it was a clockwork version of the Wild West, complete with dashing outlaws and their aether-powered guns and evil geniuses with fantastically rigged out battle tanks.
For The Gangster, the author reimagined 1881 New York into a magically-run city where instead of subways trains, we get a Grand Central Depot that is a sixteen-story terminal for airships. I can see this as a breath-taking panoramic shot when Gillian goes there to meet Gunner.
It’s not just the technology and the setting. The atmosphere was electric, the people felt real. The writing took me to an alt-Victorian New York that lives and breathes.
This is a world where magic users undergo mandatory regulation documentation. The Federal Bureau of Magic & Steam oversees the usage of magic. There are three kinds of people in the magic community. There are scholars who study magic, architects who fabricated the spells and casters, like Gillian, who perform them. Magic created by machines is illegal because it goes against the natural order, hence, it is extremely unpredictable and volatile.
It’s New Year’s Eve and Gillian eagerly awaits Gunner’s arrival to make good on their promise to ring in the New Year together. Earlier that evening, the federal agent was hot on the tail of a gangster who was using illegal magic. This gave him the name of a mysterious new player in the scene, Tick-Tock, who was stirring up trouble in the Five Points. There is no rest for our poor caster because as soon as Gunnar arrives, things went boom!
And so off they go to uncover Tick-Tock’s identity and his evil agenda, crossing paths with bullying co-workers, mechanical men, machine-made magic and grotesque abominations.
If I thought Gillian was already using high-level magic before, well, he just went nuclear. The fight scenes were beyond AWESOME!!! This part alone was enough to earn the book 5 stars. Add to that a gripping case that kept me glued and two fascinating characters that were so damn perfect for each other.
I first thought, Gunner was a mystery. We still don’t know much about him. But turns out, Gillian was the bigger puzzle to solve. He’s a bit unreliable as a narrator. We constantly learn more things about him as we go along. Everything is told from Gillian’s first person POV. You can really feel his emotions jumping off the page and boy, did I feel for the guy.
Our boy tends to be too hard on himself. He is a lonely man who oh so badly craves love but thinks himself unworthy because sees himself a monster. He is spectacularly unaware of his own appeal, bemoans his chibi stature and has absolutely no gaydar whatsoever. I thought he was a pushover but this well-spoken little man has quite a temper. When Gillian unleashes his fury, he’s one magnificent, scary motherfucker!
I also naively thought him a bad liar but holy heck, he was actually lying through his teeth all this time! All in the name of survival. Because our dear Special Agent Gillian Hamilton has some very dark secrets. I love him!!!
Gunner The Deadly is his complete opposite. He is exactly what Gillian wants. And what he wants to be. The outlaw makes no apologies about who he is. He never lies. Tall, handsome, confident, perceptive and virtually unflappable, his calm automatically shatters the moment Gillian is in danger. I loved how he gently taught the younger man about intimacy and affection. I loved how he sees Gillian, really see him. It’s through the outlaw’s uncannily sharp observations that we get glimpses of how things really are. It is through these that the troubled agent is forced to be honest with himself.
The two men are constantly out and about so the quiet moments are rare and precious. Gillian cherished them like the treasures they are as his connection with Gunner grew deeper. These scenes are so pure!
I cleared my throat. “There’s something to be said for a well-built man.” I looked up at Gunner again. He was staring at me. “You’ve been eyed up and down no fewer than half a dozen times since we entered.”
He nodded a fraction, like he was already quite aware.
“And the man behind me at the bar intends to bring a beer to you.”
Gunner’s gaze flicked in that direction but didn’t linger. “You’re quite observant when the attention isn’t focused on you.”
Sweat prickled under my arms. I shrugged, trying to appear casual, but I’m sure I looked, if anything, manic. “Perhaps… territorial, is more correct.”
That made the corners of Gunner’s eyes crinkle. “It’s rather too fish-in-a-barrel for me. I enjoy making eye contact with a man across a tavern. Getting that swell in your gut, like the ground has fallen out from under you.”
I tried to swallow, but my throat was parched—dry like animal bones bleaching in the desert sun. “Like you’ve been pinned to the wall.”
Gunner took one step closer to me. “And you realize you share a tendency.”
“Now you’ve got to put it into words.”
Another step. “When it’s right, you don’t need words.”
The Gangster took off at a running start. Quite literally too. It never let down the pace until the very end, where it dropped one hell of a cliffhanger. The events took place only a couple of days but even with things going fast, all the various plotlines were brilliantly executed. Everything came together beautifully. It went all out with the action, the suspense, the mystery, the imagery and the magic while delivering a wonderful romance that is as tender as it is spine-tingling. THIS is exactly how you cast a spell on a reader!
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
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The Venetian And The Rum Runner – L.A. Witt
New York City, 1924
Once their paths cross, their worlds will never be the same.
Danny Moore and his crew only meant to rob the hotel suites of rich guests. He wasn’t supposed to find himself in gangster Ricky il Sacchi’s room. And il Sacchi wasn’t supposed to wind up dead. Now Danny has the attention of another notorious gangster.
Carmine Battaglia is intrigued by the Irish thieves who would have made off with a huge score if not for il Sacchi’s death. They’re cunning, careful, and exactly what he needs for his rum running operation. But Danny’s already lost two brothers to the violence between New York’s Irish and Sicilian gangs, and he’s not about to sell his soul to Carmine.
With a gangster’s blood on his hands, Danny needs protection, whether he likes it or not. And that’s to say nothing of the generous pay, which promises to pull him and his crew—not to mention their families—out of destitution.
Working together brings Danny and Carmine to a détente, then to something so intense neither can ignore it. Something nearly enough to make them both forget the brutal tensions between their countrymen.
But the death of Ricky il Sacchi hasn’t been forgotten. And someone is determined to make Danny bleed for it.
The Venetian and the Rum Runner is a 144,000-word gay historical romantic suspense novel set during Prohibition and the Roaring Twenties.
CW: graphic violence, PTSD
The Venetian and the Rum Runner is a historical mafia novel set in the Prohibition era. This is different from L.A. Witt‘s usual contemporary offerings but it has her trademark style of making the MCs go through hoops of fire before giving them their very hard-earned happy endings.
The story brings together two men who were traditionally enemies. Danny Moore, leader of a gang of Irish thieves, found himself a wanted man when he inadvertently killed an Italian mobster. Having heard of the incident and duly impressed with the gang’s ingenuity in pulling off their heist (also grateful for reasons later revealed) Carmine Battaglia sought out the gang to hire them for rum running in exchange for his protection.
Understandably, Danny and his gang wanted nothing to do with it at first. Italian mobsters were the reason Danny’s brothers were dead. Until pressing needs forced his hand and he reluctantly accepted the job. And so begins a very profitable business relationship and a simmering attraction that neither men expected.
This is a long book. It took me a while to get into the first few chapters of the story but the rich atmosphere and the authentic vibe kept me hooked. I loved the 1920s setting. The writing effortlessly took me to that glamorous era of smoky speakeasies and creative alcohol consumption.
There was a whole lot of black market items being moved around because people were thirsty and thirsty people were desperate. Alcohol was prescribed as “medicine”. People disguise the stuff in tea cups. Hidden compartments and escape hatches were at the ready in case of a raid. These parts alone were super interesting. It was pretty well-researched. The rich historical details really made the 1920s come alive.
I had fun reading about the various clever schemes Danny and his gang came up with for their rum running activities. The story did a good job providing ample page-time for the lads. Although I must say that the best character is Danny’s bestfriend, James the priest. He gave the most sensible advise I’ve ever heard from a priest. There’s also a twist involving him that I never, ever expected. I hope he gets his own story because this holy man has a lot to tell.
The romance was a slow, slow burning flame, full of longing looks and heated gazes that you can FEEL from across the room. In an age of secrecy and circumspection, the two would be like, “am I just seeing what I wanted to see?“. And I wanted to scream, yes, he IS looking at you like that!
Danny and Carmine kept it strictly business for most of their interactions. But the tension between them was so palpable, had there been a third person in the room, they would certainly have no doubts about what these two men wanted.
This had dual POV but I felt it was more Danny’s story than Carmine’s. Carmine spent most of the time in his office. He had no qualms doing business with Irishmen. He was also accepting of his attraction to Danny from the get go. There wasn’t much development to his character but I liked him all the same.
It was Danny who had the most progression. He had to deal with his remaining brother who disapproved of his chosen path. He had to fight his attraction to an Italian. He had to reconcile with his core beliefs. When he did, he made the first move. That scene! I had to hold my breath because it was a beautiful wordless declaration done so excruciatingly slow and careful and gentle and sweet.
Later on, the story took a tragic turn and stakes were raised even higher. This is what I loved most about L.A. Witt. She always creates these no way out scenarios that seem virtually impossible for her boys to get out of, much more, have a happy ending. Then she would have them pull off these daring, deadly maneuvers where they escape by the skin of their teeth.
Danny and Carmine did just that and even found a way to be together. Although I wasn’t as satisfied with the resolution as I would have liked. It was a realistic HFN, given the time period and the situation but I couldn’t help wishing for something different, perhaps something with less goodbyes.
According to the author, The Venetian and The Rum Runner was inspired by a conversation with Michael Ferraiuolo. He’s also the one who narrated it. He is my all time favorite narrator and he really poured all his talents in bringing the characters and their accents to life! His bad guy voices were especially nastily good. I definitely recommend experiencing this fabulous intoxicating historical in audiobook form.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Psychic Detective Mysteries: Shadows Deceive – S.C. Wynne
If I could have put off meeting Thompson’s family forever, I would have. But he made it crystal clear it was important to him, and I got the feeling if I blew it off again, I’d lose him.
So, like a good boyfriend, I accompanied him to the rustic city of Big Bear, hoping for the best. I expected awkward moments, and funny looks from his family. What I didn’t see coming was having to hang out with his perfect ex-lover, Alexander, and for dead bodies to start piling up.
Working and living together, Thompson and I formed a bond I didn’t think could be broken. But when he starts doubting my abilities, and pulling away, simply because he doesn’t like what I’m saying, I start to realize maybe we were never as tight as I’d thought.
Thompson needs to decide if he wants to protect the past, more than he wants to join me in the future. He thinks I’m just scared of commitment, and so I’m causing trouble. But the reality is, Thompson is the person with one foot out the door.
Shadows Deceive is the third installment of the psychic procedural series, Psychic Detective Mysteries. It follows psychic/police consultant Liam Baker and his partner/boyfriend, Detective Kimball Thompson as they solve murders with the help of Liam’s ability to talk to ghosts.
The first two books were about Liam and Thompson trying to catch a powerful evil psychic, Stephen Pine, who was killing several people and was out to get Liam. Meanwhile, Liam was grieving the loss of his late boyfriend, Will, while Thompson, Will’s partner, patiently waited for Liam to notice him.
Book 3 sees the two men as an established couple which means it was time to meet the family.
The story is from Liam’s POV and you really had to feel it for the guy. Our boy is most definitely not a people person. Not only does he have to stay with Thompson’s family for two weeks, he has to deal with Thompson’s very attractive, very accomplished, very charming ex, Alexander, who the family considers one of their own. The man even ate dinner with them almost everyday Liam was there. And, the poor psychic also stumbled upon a dead body near the family house. So you could see his pain here.
His situation is the bane of introverts everywhere. And you got to hand it to Liam, he was really, really, really trying. He sucked it up and played nice. The book did a great job laying out Liam’s insecurities and the valiant way he tried to be a good boyfriend and to do his job professionally no matter how compromised his partner was. He has grown so much as a character. He came a long way from a grief-stricken man to someone who can hold is own against evil forces. I was neutral about him before but he really won me over here.
Thompson’s family was awesome. His mom especially. The part that made her stood out for me was that she was very perceptive. She knew Liam was hurting. She wasn’t blind to her son’s faults and Alexander’s manipulative side.
Meanwhile, Thompson needed to grovel more because he was being extra obtuse to how much he was hurting his beloved boyfriend by being chummy with the ex. Liam and Thompson’s relationship was tested almost to the breaking point. It was excruciating to watch. Don’t get me wrong, Thompson adores Liam. I liked him in the past 2 books. This Alex thing just wasn’t his shining moment.
The story is a great blend of romance, mystery and paranormal. The mystery didn’t hold much surprises. It was glaringly obvious who the killer was, especially with another dead body popping up. Far from making it boring, I liked how it worked well with the plot, adding another layer of insidious evil for Liam to conquer. I did wonder though if it would have been better or worse, story-wise, if he knew the identity of the killer right away and had to convince Thompson about it.
The plot also connects to the main villain, Stephen Pine. He is currently in jail. I wish that was the last we see of him because I’m not looking forward to his repeat performance. Alas, it is hinted we should expect a comeback in future installments
Shadows Deceive is a story about trust, family, standing up for one’s self and holding on to what’s important. It was emotional and engaging and still suspenseful even with the element of predictability. This is the best book so far. I am eager to see more of Liam’s curmudgeon-y self getting together with ghosts, serial killers, co-workers, in-laws and who knows what. Expecting better of Thompson this time.
Psychic Detective Mysteries should be read in order. Find out more about this Stephen Pine business in the first two books, Shadow’s Edge and Shadow’s Return. I read both but didn’t review Book 2. Check out my review of Book 1, Shadow’s Edge here.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Vigilance is the spin-off series of The Marchesi Family. It’s about a group of men who take on crime in order to right the wrongs the usual law enforcement authorities couldn’t or wouldn’t handle. I was excited to read this series when I met some of the members who were backing up the Marchesis in rescuing Devil’s boyfriend, Joe.
Vigilance members might not be related by blood but they had a great found family thing going on and undying loyalty to each other much like the Marchesi’s. The series as a whole had a similar feel to the original series. It started with me not feeling the first book that much but stayed on because I was super intrigued by their group’s cause and their leader.
The relationships in each book showcase different BDSM-type dynamics. The romances are insta-lust turned insta-love. I’m more of a slowburn person so I’m not particularly enthusiastic about the them. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.
My usual complaint with the Silvia Violet stories I encountered is that she always had this nice overarching plot as well as interesting characters but tends to focus too much on the sex. I know this is her thing but I think it’s a wasted opportunity to create a nicely balanced action/suspense romance instead of an erotic romance that happens to have some action/suspense.
I’m saying this because the taking down human traffickers plot was a great overarching thread, especially when they had to go against a high-ranking politician who was so damn hard to catch. However, it was unfortunate that this side of the story was minimized in favor of the romance. The books had such rushed endings. They could have had great action scenes right there.
This is my review of the first two books, Giorgio and Niall.
Vigilance: Giorgio – Silvia Violet
I’m a sniper. A trained operator. A bodyguard. A member of the elite private security force known as Vigilance.
When my boss’s son acquires a stalker, of course I’m the one he calls to keep the guy safe. Mr. X’s one rule? Keep my hands to myself.
Not a problem.
At least, not until I meet Lane Porter.
He’s gorgeous. Flamboyant. Fascinating. He makes me want things I can’t have. He stretches my self-control to the limit… and then breaks it.
As the threat to Lane intensifies, we’re forced to hide out in a remote, one-bedroom cabin with danger stalking us from all sides, but suddenly keeping the boss’s son safe isn’t enough.
My new mission is to make Lane mine.
Giorgio was one of the guys who helped the Marchesis thus earning him their friendship and loyalty. He was tasked to guard the son of X, the Vigilance boss. He was explicitly told to keep his hands off the young man. Said young man was also the guy he hooked up with the night before.
I didn’t care much for the two MCs. Giorgio’s character was supposedly a grumpy, protective, alpha male but he’s so domineering he became one-dimensional. I didn’t like the way he treated Lane. Lane, fabulous and sparkly, did his best to shine. He would have but his appeal was dimmed by his instant capitulations and Giorgio’s looming presence.
There’s not much going on here and most of it was Giorgio and Lane having sex too much too soon without protection. Also, I’m not a fan of the dom/sub kink so I was meh on the romance.
However, this book set things in motion and introduced the various mainstays of Vigilance who each have their own books. I pushed on because I was invested in the rest of the vigilantes.
2.5 Stars – far from hate but not quite a like
Vigilance: Niall – Silvia Violet
I’m a former FBI agent. Now I’m on the opposite side of the law as part of an underground vigilante organization. When the fight to stop a crime ring pairs me with a pawn shop owner, it’s hate at first sight. Fun fact: Hate and desire aren’t mutually exclusive. To further the investigation, Marcus and I must pretend to be boyfriends. Too much time spent in close proximity has me wondering if Marcus might have the power to thaw my icy heart.
Niall was also another member who was involved in helping the Marchesis. That’s where he met Marcus, the pawnshop owner who was assisting as well. They hated each other, hooked up once upon a time ago and now had to be fake boyfriends in order to infiltrate the human trafficking ring in an exclusive island estate.
I liked this one much better. Niall and Marcus had more personalities. Niall tends to be more uptight and wears fancy suits that instantly pegged him as a fed. Marcus is more laid back, snarky and likes being control.
Their relationship felt more like that of equals. They had a fun thing going with their antagonistic interactions. And Marcus was all protective dominant alpha male without trampling all over Niall
This book was also better balanced in terms of various elements. Unlike Giorgio and Lane, Niall and Marcus were actually doing their jobs instead of boinking all the time. Also, Giorgio was more likable here now that he’s out and about.
We are introduced to some bad guys and some whose motives are not yet clear. Their undercover investigation really moved a lot of things forward. And they were so close too. But the evil villain is one slippery mofo.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
Vigilance might not have the strongest openings but once you get past that, it’s easy to get hooked. It a fun, escapist series that’s light on drama and heavy on the action. Recommended for those looking for steamy BDSM-flavored romance with a side of crime-fighting.
I also recommend reading The Marchesi Family to get the most out of the experience. Characters from that series appear here as well. Vigilance is best read in order. Leo’s and X’s stories are next. X is the one I’m most looking forward to. He’s so mysterious we don’t even have his real name yet.
Check out my series review of The Marchesi Family here.
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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.
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.
This Is Not Revenge is book 1 of a trilogy. It ends with a cliffhanger.
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
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