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    REVIEW: The Real Thing by Elle Keaton

    West Coast Forensics: The Real Thing – Elle Keaton

    An oblivious prince wishes for his knight in shining armor. His knight has been under his nose all along, will he claim him before it’s too late for them both?

    As deeply as he craves his own fairy tale happily-ever-after, resort owner Cody Prescott doesn’t have time for a relationship. That doesn’t stop him from crushing on most men on Piedras. Luckily for him, they’re emotionally unavailable or already taken, so he doesn’t have to worry about getting attached.

    Wade Buckner, the island’s handiest handyman, is tired of waiting for Cody to wake up and realize Wade is the man for the job. He’s ready and willing to rescue Cody from just about anything, even questionable hotel guests.

    The Harvest Feast is the kick-off for the resort’s one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary and they have a full house. But something sinister is afoot at the resort, something that even his knight might not be able to rescue Cody from.

    Are they trying to kill him, put him out of business, or both?

    #grumpy-sunshine #FamilyHistory #OnlyOneBed

    The Real Thing, book five in the West Coast Forensics series, is dual POV and follows Cody and Wade all the way to their happy ending. Can be read as a standalone but might be better enjoyed if you start with Real Trouble, first in the WCF series.

    West Coast Forensics started as a spin-off featuring members of the WCS, a PI agency. It has expanded to stories of Piedras Island’s notable LGBTQIA+ citizens.

    The Real Thing is the fifth installment, staring Cody Prescott, owner of the island’s landmark hotel, Brooch Resort. This is a historical establishment owned by the not-so-upstanding but wealthy Prescott family. As the last living descendant, Cody is determined not to have the old hotel fail under his watch.

    Wade Buckner is the hotel’s most reliable handyman, who almost single-handedly keeps the resort from breaking down. He’s a grumpy bastard, an ex-military who keeps saying he’s going to leave the island but can’t seem to stay away whenever his boss a.k.a. secret crush, Cody asks for help. Wade is a great guy, but his characterization needs to be more than just “growly” which was repeatedly mentioned several times.

    Wade describes Cody as a geek with sunshine personality. He thinks the younger man has this Cody glow that charms people and make everything shine, even when they were kids. And perhaps Cody’s glow worked its magic in the book itself because despite the murder and the family drama, the storytelling has a fun and joyful energy that made this a one-sitter for me.

    The overall vibe was light and humorous. There’s some angst regarding Wade and his father, but later on, Cody won the old man over with hardly any effort. Cody has been notorious throughout the series for falling for the wrong guys and being a disaster-magnet, so I’m glad our boy finally found his knight in coveralls. Also, Wade’s family drama gave the handyman’s character more dimension.

    Wade and Cody’s romance was a mutual pining between a grump and sunshine with a childhood connection angle, one of my fave tropes. The two are polar opposites but fit together seamlessly in a yin-yang of personality quirks and work skills. I loved how they navigate their relationship and uber-hectic work life, while solving a murder mystery in a middle of a storm.

    As a huge fan of the series, appearances from old friends never fail to make me smile. We have cameos from our favorite taciturn Viking, Niall Hamarsson and his husband, Sheriff Dempsey, Deputies Birdy and Soren, even Shae Delacombe and his formidable Great Aunt.

    The supporting cast was memorable too because we have Chef Danny Petras, star of Book 1, Real Trouble, and Dutch Schumacher and his daughter Hazel, stars of Book 4, Real Hazard, and Ben, assistant manager and an awesome friend to Cody.

    The mystery was twisty-turny and well-crafted, with lots of suspicious individuals, a.k.a. guests of the resort. The best part for me was how it wove hotel business with the mystery solving. The book did a great job portraying how crazy busy running a hotel can be, especially with Cody seeming to be everywhere, greeting guests, organizing events, putting out fires, and even tailing suspects. It made me want to watch The Bear.

    Also, the writer who won the contest and the island mortician piqued my interest. I need their book.

    One niggle is that there are at least three characters with similar names. Rey, Wade’s father, Ralph, pronounced “rafe”, the writer, and Raffy, the young kid working in the hotel. I’m audiobooking this, and sometimes, the names confused me.

    The Real Thing is another entertaining installment of West Coast Forensics. There’s danger and suspense, the frenetic energy of non-stop hustle, and the sweet, heartwarming moments of a hard-earned HEA. All in all, Brooch Resort is well-worth the stay.

    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

    Soundtrack: The Real Thing
    Artist: Three Legged Fox
    Album: The Real Thing


    The Real Thing can be read as a standalone but a visit to Piedras Island is not complete unless you meet the rest of the gang:

    Real Trouble
    Real Risk
    Real Hazard

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    REVIEW: Puzzle for Two by Josh Lanyon

    Puzzle for Two – Josh Lanyon

    It was like those crazy detective novels he read as a kid…

    Fledging PI Zachariah Davies’s wealthy and eccentric client, toymaker Alton Beacher, wants to hire an investigator who can pose as his boyfriend while figuring out who is behind the recent attempts on his life. And Zach, struggling to save the business his father built, is just desperate enough to set aside his misgivings and take the job.

    But it doesn’t take long for Zach to realize all is not as it seems (and, given that it all seems pretty weird…). The only person he can turn to for help is equally struggling, equally desperate–but a whole lot more experienced–rival PI Flint Carey.

    Former Marine Flint has been waiting for Zach to throw in the towel and sell whatever’s left of the Davies Detective Agency to him. Still, he’s unwillingly attracted to the game but inexperienced accountant-turned-shamus, and can’t help offering a helping hand when Zach runs into trouble.

    Especially when it’s hard to imagine any worse trouble than having your client murdered.

    Puzzle for Two is a standalone novel by Josh Lanyon. It has a contemporary setting but also that Golden Age noir vibe that the author loves to reference in many of her books.

    The story is from the POV of accountant-turned-PI Zachariah Davies who, along with his sister Brooke, is struggling to keep the family’s PI business alive. Then, wealthy toymaker Alton Beacher waltzes in, offering $12,000 for Zach to play his boyfriend to find out about the death threats to the already married businessman. Smelling the fish from a mile away but unable to say no because they had ZERO clients, Zach very reluctantly agrees.

    The case is more complicated than Zach bargain for. Realizing they need more people to cover the investigation, he begrudgingly hires their rival, the more experienced ex-Marine-turned-PI Flint Carey. The man was willing to help, but was also quick to berate Zach for taking a case that is so patently bogus AND kept pushing offers to buy their detective agency.

    The two men were polar opposites. Zach is inexperienced, a little too naive, and the type who avoids telling the truth so as not to hurt. If I’m feeling charitable, I would say he’s the type to see the good in others, but he tested my patience. There were high-tension scenes that could have been resolved had he just been more upfront.

    Conflict came from the his interactions with his manipulative ex, Ben. This pest just wouldn’t stop inserting himself in Zach’s life while making it all about himself, AND blatantly ignoring the fact that they already broke up 4 months ago. Had Zach just told him point blank he has no feelings for the guy anymore, it would have saved us from all that drama. Their scenes were not pleasant to go through, and the plot could have done without.

    On the other hand, Flint is not really a cynic but more of a realist due to years of experience. He’s blunt and antagonistic with Zach, who returns snark for snark. A typical Josh Lanyon love interest but nicer. A guy who says what he means, doesn’t play games, and always willing to lend a hand to a struggling rival.

    I thought the mystery was pretty straightforward but trust the author to throw me in for a loop with twists and turns, suspense, and a whole bunch of questionable characters. While the book isn’t my favorite from the author, I was still completely absorbed because the storytelling is very engaging.

    Puzzle For Two has all the usual Josh Lanyon elements but is far from stale. While it had its share of self-absorbed exes, it’s also highly entertaining, humorous, and fun. All in all, a satisfying comfort read from a go-to author.

    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: Puzzle Pieces
    Artist: Tiger Trap
    Album: Tiger Trap

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    REVIEW: Proper Scoundrels by Allie Therin

    Roaring Twenties Magic: Proper Scoundrels – Allie Therin

    Don’t miss this standalone spin-off in Allie Therin’s acclaimed Magic in Manhattan universe!

    Their scandalous pasts have left them wounded and unworthy—and hopelessly perfect together.

    London, 1925

    Sebastian de Leon is adjusting to life after three years spent enthralled by blood magic. The atrocities he committed under its control still weigh heavily on his conscience, but when he’s asked to investigate a series of mysterious murders, it feels like an opportunity to make amends. Until he realizes the killer’s next likely target is a man who witnessed Sebastian at his worst—the Viscount Fine.

    Lord Fine—known as Wesley to his friends, if he had any—is haunted by ghosts of his own after serving as a British army captain during the Great War. Jaded and untrusting, he’s tempted to turn Sebastian in, but there’s something undeniably captivating about the reformed paranormal, and after Sebastian risks his own life to save Wesley’s, they find common ground.

    Seeking sanctuary together at Wesley’s country estate in Yorkshire, the unlikely pair begins to unravel a mystery steeped in legend and folklore, the close quarters emboldening them to see past the other’s trauma to the person worth loving beneath. But with growing targets on their backs, they’ll have to move quickly if they want to catch a killer—and discover whether two wounded souls can help each other heal.

    Proper Scoundrel is the first book of Roaring Twenties Magic, Allie Therin‘s latest paranormal historical romance series. It’s set in the same world as her acclaimed Magic in Manhattan series, also narrated by the always fantastic Joel Froomkin, a.k.a. Joel Leslie. The author excels at creating fade-to-black squee-tastic romances, like my favorite, Liar City.

    I came into Proper Scoundrels blind, knowing only that this is a historical romance, so I was pleasantly surprise to learn magic is involved here. I highly recommend reading Magic in Manhattan first because the events in that series are heavily referenced here. I was scrambling a bit to piece together the events because early on, the names, concepts, and happenings were mentioned as if the reader is already familiar. Also, it might be spoilerish.

    Sebastian de Leon, of the renowned magical de Leon clan, is searching for a killer. The de Leons are guardians of magical artifacts, one of which was stolen and reportedly in the hands of the person committing the murders. The next person on the killer’s list is Lord Fine, who was friends with benefits with the MC of Magic in Manhattan.

    As far as the murder mystery goes, the mastermind is practically a given because you can suss out right away the moment they appear on page and very early in the story too. It was a matter of watching things unfold and come together in the action-packed climax. The fun is in watching Sebastian and his friends use their specialized magical skills during the investigation.

    While I live for spectacular magical displays, I also love that the magic isn’t always bombastic explosions. There’s the bad guy Jack Mercier and his pyrokinesis, and there’s also Sebastian’s cousin, Isabelle, with her magical paintings and tattoos. They’re the kind that stays hidden or unnoticed unless you know where to look.

    There’s ex-spy Jade and her telekinesis, very handy in a many situations, and her scholarly boyfriend, Zhang Wei’s astral projection, very useful in spying. I love worlds like these because they always make me imagine what kind of magic I’ll have if I am a character in the story.

    Sebastian’s magic is considered one of the most dangerous among paranormals. He can cancel any magic, and he can also affect normal people by absorbing their auras. Of course, this adorable man has to be a fluffy sunshiny marshmallow who beats himself up for crimes he’s forced to commit under the control of the blood magic.

    Lord Fine is a grumpy, cynical bastard who hates the world and loves only the fluffy marshmallow, Sebby. This trope is one of the swooniest tropes in Romancelandia, and while Wesley and Sebastian weren’t the most squee-tastic couple, their chemistry was sparks and fireworks!

    Watching Wesley’s character grow was a joy to witness! My favorite Wesley moments are him with absolutely no magic in his blood cockily taking on the high-level paranormals with just his wits and a gun. Peak Wesley moment is threatening to shoot Powder Puff, his 70-year-old neighbor’s dog, to make marshmallow Sebby spill his guts. This was when they were still enemies. Cold. Stone cold.

    Proper Scoundrels is an enchanting historical paranormal murder mystery centering around an international group of friends who keeps the world safe. It’s also a cute grumpy+sunshine romance between a sharp-shooting viscount and the cinnamon roll scion of an old magical family. All in all, thoroughly spellbinding, swoony, and fun!

    4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away

    Soundtrack: Before You Came
    Artist: Autoheart
    Album: I Can Build a Fire

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    REVIEW: The Soldier and the Spy by Annabelle Greene

    Society of Beasts: The Soldier and the Spy – Annabelle Greene

    A beholden man finds himself falling for the war hero he’s destined to double-cross.

    Three hundred pounds for one night of protection. It’s a job offer, but it’s also a ruse. Captain Benjamin Frakes, war hero and de facto head of the Society of Beasts—a club for gentlemen who prefer gentlemen—is tempted to turn it down. But August Weatherby, the sexy, brazen stranger making the offer, has captivated him completely.

    August is hardly the flush flirt he claims to be, however. An indebted man, desperate to save his infirm sister, August makes an ideal pawn for a lord eager to bring down the Society of Beasts once and for all. But August’s charge to find evidence against Frakes is at odds with his own virgin desire to entice the captain into showing him the true meaning of pleasure.

    As August’s infiltration pushes him deeper into the beguiling world of delights behind the Society’s closed doors, he and Frakes discover new ways to push the boundaries of their own cravings. But with mounting pressure to complete his devious mission, August finds himself torn between the man his heart yearns for and the sister whose life depends on his betrayal.

    The Society of Beasts continues to make historicals happen for me this year!

    The Beasts are an uber-elite, super-secret club for gentlemen who prefer gentlemen. It was founded by Edward Stanhope and his friends, Frakes, Hartley, and Lambert, also known as the Lion, the Bear, the Sable, and the Wolf respectively.

    The Soldier and the Spy picks up after the events of The Vicar and the Rake. Captain Benjamin Frakes is now the head of the Beasts after Edward settled in the countryside. While in a pub, he was brazenly approached by August Wetherby, openly flirted with, and commissioned to protect the young man from threats to his life while at they are attending a ball. Unknown to Frakes, Wetherby was tasked to out him and the club by a blackmailer.

    It’s hard to root for a romance that started with deceit and continued on false pretenses for most of the story. So I didn’t really care for the romance or the two leads. They don’t detract from the story. I didn’t hate them. They’re just there.

    What kept me riveted was the engaging storytelling and crisp writing, combined with the always impeccable delivery by Cornell Collins, who’s born to narrate these kinds of books. The plot moved at a steady clip. So even though I’m indifferent towards the leads, I was never bored. It’s not as twisty turn-y as Book 1, but there are plenty of suspense, intrigue, and shenanigans.

    I am also deeply invested in the affairs of the Beasts, so I was happy to see the inner workings of the club. We are introduced to Josiah Balfour, the dedicated manager and star of the next book. He piqued my interest, and he’s paired with Hartley! I hope we get the audiobook for this soon.

    Of course, I had to have updates on my favorite scheming dark lord, Morris, Edward’s younger brother. He lost his leverage in the first book, but later returned to form here. This is one of the rare occasions I’m cheering harder for the MF couple rather than the MM leads. Morris hopelessly pining after Caroline, Lady Ploverdale, while trying to keep his cold, Machiavellian image intact is making me squee~! I need their book so bad!!!

    The Soldier and the Spy is an entertaining read and a solid installment of an addicting series. I might not have been swayed by the MM romance, but there is plenty of romance here that made me swoon!

    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

    Soundtrack: Honest
    Artist: Band of Skulls
    Album: Baby Darling Doll Face Honey

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    REVIEW: The Vicar and the Rake by Annabelle Greene

    The Vicar and the Rake – Annabelle Greene

    Debut author Annabelle Greene brings us the brilliant first book in her Society of Beasts series, in which a quiet country vicar is unwillingly reunited with the duke who left him long ago…

    As a young man, Sir Gabriel Winters left behind his status as a gentleman, turning his back on his secret desires and taking a self-imposed vow of celibacy. Now he’s a chaste, hardworking vicar, and his reputation is beyond reproach. But, try as he might, he’s never forgotten the man he once desired or the pain of being abandoned by his first love.

    Edward Stanhope, the Duke of Caddonfell, is a notorious rake, delighting in scandal no matter the consequence. With a price on his head, he flees to the countryside, forced to keep his presence a secret or risk assassination. When Edward finds Gabriel on his estate, burning with fever, he cannot leave him to die, but taking him in puts them both in jeopardy.

    With the help of a notorious blackmailer, a society of rich and famous gentlemen who prefer gentlemen, and a kitten named Buttons, they might just manage to save Edward’s life—but the greatest threat may be to their hearts.

    I’ve complained that historicals haven’t worked for me since last year, even the usually brilliant K.J. Charles books. 

    The Vicar and the Rake was a random pick and a blind read at that. I was ecstatic that not only did it click, it was a one-sitter and a 5-star!

    I was already deep inside the story when I realized similarities to the classic historical series, Society of Gentleman by K.J. Charles. I totally didn’t mind. If it was an homage, it was a wonderfully done tribute to my favorite gay gents.

    This is the story of two childhood friends, Edward Stanhope and Gabriel Winters. They spent their youthful days on the cusps of secret evolving feelings when Edward ghosted, leaving Gabriel adrift and pining.

    Ten years later, the infamous rake, Edward a.k.a. Scandal, skulks back to his estate with a pugnacious, insolent valet in tow. He’s hiding from the Duke of Sussex, who is hellbent on his demise after he was caught canoodling with the duke’s son. Upon arrival, Edward stumbles upon Gabriel, now a vicar, lying unconscious and feverish in the gardens.

    Edward is the founder of the Society of Beasts, along with his friends Frakes, Hartley, and Lambert. This is an uber-elite, super-secret club for gentlemen who prefer gentlemen. They called themselves Beasts the same way queers have embraced the word that was previously a slur.

    The four friends band together to save Edward and take down the enemy duke, but cracks appear when a traitor is discovered among their ranks. Who?! I wished the other Beasts were introduced sooner so there’s more time to flesh out their personalities.

    I get that most of the plot focused on delicious tension between Edward and Gabriel, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. The two are dorks, Edward most of all. The man is hot/cold, skittish, and desperately wants to be good but fails miserably. Gabriel is heart eyes, stalwart adoration, and pure goodness. It was hallelujahs when Edward finally stopped running!

    However, the best character was Morris, Edward’s formidable and hella scary secret-monger brother. He is the most feared man in London, who knows everyone’s deepest, darkest secrets and rumored to hold even the regent himself by the throat.

    I love Morris so much! You’d think he’d be vile and evil. Sure, he’s cold, blunt, and utterly Machiavellian, but he’s also at his wit’s end trying to save the life of a brother who seemed flagrantly unrepentant about the trouble he caused and is now making more trouble with the vicar as we speak.

    At first, I couldn’t understand why Morris was making that much effort. He always acts like he hates Edward. Later, it was revealed how much Edward sacrificed to protect his little brother from their abusive father during their childhood. I realized, the bond between the brothers will always be unbreakable and true no matter how they act towards each other. For me, this was the most poignant part of the story.

    A delightful female character was introduced in the form of Gabriel’s sister, Caroline, recently widowed. Graceful, proper, and uncannily perceptive, she matched Morris’s wit and strategic genius, subtly nudging his thoughts in unexpected but enlightening points as they hatch their counterattack to Sussex. And this woman is simply divine for bringing out Morris’s endearing human side.

    As all best Regencies go, The Vicar and The Rake is ripe with USTs, shenanigans, danger, mystery, and intrigue. The dialogues are sharp and witty, and listening to this kind of writing when narrated by the great Cornell Collins is pure eargasm! Captivating, twisty turn-y, combustible, and perfectly put together, this is exactly how historical romance should be!

    5 Stars – absolutely perfect

    Soundtrack: Move Me
    Artist: Half Alive
    Album: Conditions of a Punk

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    REVIEW: Aisle Be There by Charlie Cochet

    Runaway Grooms: Aisle Be There – Charlie Cochet

    They say your wedding day is the beginning of your happily ever after.

    But I’m pretty sure they never stood on a sweltering Florida beach getting ready to promise forever… only to change their mind at the last minute and be assaulted by a crustacean while fleeing the scene.

    Once upon a time, I was a respected Navy officer. A guy who made a career out of managing chaos.

    Now, I am the chaos, a groom on the run from my ex-fiance and his dad’s goons. Oh, and the guy driving the getaway car? That would be my ex-boyfriend, Jett.

    Gorgeous. Brilliant. A guy I couldn’t help falling in love with twelve years ago.

    The guy I realize I’ve always loved.

    Did I mention he’s also a famous rock star on a sold-out summer tour?

    This situation has disaster written all over it. But if I can manage the chaos, maybe I’ll get my happy ending after all.

    Readers keenly following The Kings and their friends were teased by the opening scenes of this cute meet-disaster, second chance romance with a fake rock star boyfriend thrown in the mix, in the book Sleight of Hand.

    Aisle Be There runs in the same humorous vein as Four Kings Security and its spin-off, The Kings: Wild Cards. Gage Kingston, cousin to Wade Kingston, aka King, is having the worst cold feet a couple of hours before his wedding to an overdramatic artist/influencer. A hermit crab in his suit finally drove him to run away, only to end up almost causing a tent stage to collapse and being rescued by none other than the rock star Jett Stevens, lead singer of Queen’s Hart. Also his ex.

    I love Charlie Cochet‘s writing, and this offering is chockful of things I enjoy in her books. There’s the wacky found family in the awesome septuagenarian Queen’s Hart members who treated Jett like family. There’s the snark, the crazy antics, and the swoony romance with an adorable ex-military boyfriend in Gage.

    This series is more of a straightforward contemporary romance compared to the action-oriented Kings series. Jett has big shoes to fill after his dad, Hart Stevens, passed away. Passionate and just as talented as his legendary dad, he is, nonetheless, doomed to forever live in the shadow of that legend, dimming his own brilliance in the process.

    Which Gage was quick to observed, having seen Jett at his best in their younger days. And as a good boyfriend, even a fake one at that, did everything he could to make Jett feel like himself again. It had him butting heads with the band manager, Jett’s uncle, a manipulative, money-hungry bastard.

    I had a lot of fun with this book, and being a lifelong rock music fan, I get a kick out of the bands namedropped here and there. Gage and Jett were adorbs! The cameos from the Kings and their friends were the cherry on top.

    However, the story almost lost me at the crucial 3rd arc. I’ll try not to spoil it too much. It’s the part were the evil uncle was driving a wedge between Gage and Jett. He spewed some bullshit about Jett causing the self-sacrificing Gage to run away because of well-meaning crap of not wanting to ruin Jett’s dream. It frustrated me so much I wanted to throw the book.

    First, it is well-established that the uncle is a manipulative bastard who will say anything to keep Jett under his thumb. Jett is aware of this. Had tried several times to fire the bastard, only to be outwitted. Gage is also very, very much aware of this. Plus, he just told himself he’s going to fight for his second chance with Jett. And, even made a note to talk to Jett, especially about his uncle.

    Gage had confrontation with the evil uncle, who went on a villain monologue and told Gage he was bad for Jett’s dream project. Which the singer was supposedly working on for months but Gage had never heard Jett mentioned before. The dork could have recorded that little speech on his cellphone and showed it to Jett. So maybe he couldn’t record the bastard secretly. HE COULD HAVE TALKED TO JETT!!!!!!! ASK HIM ABOUT THE DAMN PROJECT IF IT EVEN EXISTS!!! ARG!!!!

    Instead, the idiot hastily packed his bags and ran away, even after Jett begged him to stay. WITHOUT ASKING JETT ABOUT THE DAMN PROJECT OR EVEN CONFIRMING WHAT THE EVIL UNCLE TOLD HIM. WHO EVERYONE KNOWS IS A LYING LIAR WHO LIES!!!!

    Past this trainwreck, the conclusion won me over again with a grand gesture we could only dream about from our favorite rock stars. So yeah, this rockin’ trip down the aisle ain’t perfect, but it’s still quite a show!

    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: Be There
    Album: Wasa Tusa

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    Aisle Be ThereUS | UK

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