Fool’s Gold – Ki Brightly & M.D. Gregory
The Bad Boy from the Trailer Park
There are certain unwritten rules in the Lakeview Trailer Park, and number five is clear—No Gay Stuff.
Ethan “Shep” Shepherd has grown up hiding his true self so he doesn’t get kicked out of the only home he knows, but that doesn’t mean he can’t dream of a better life with the beautiful man who lives across the river. As a criminal, Ethan knows Jonas is too good for him, but when another one of the trailer park guys decides to attack Jonas, Ethan steps in and changes the course of their lives.
The Good Boy from the Religious Family
Jonas Nomikos is trying to survive his parents and their conservative views until he gets to college, where he can finally be himself. It isn’t an easy task to pretend to be the son they want, and when his best friend tells the truth to Jonas’s parents, he’s sure his life is over. Until Ethan. Ethan gives him hope and makes him smile, and Jonas wants to be with him, even if it means saying goodbye to the only life he knows.
The Road to Being Who They Are
If Ethan and Jonas want to be together, they’ll need to make sacrifices. The journey to happiness is filled with surprises, and Ethan isn’t sure Jonas is ready to accept the reality of his life—which includes motorcycle clubs, breaking the law, and living payday to payday. Jonas might shock him, though.
Fool’s Gold has a theme of overcoming prejudice and contains depictions of homophobia and discrimination, including scenes in a conversion camp. The authors do not condone homophobic behavior or discrimination of any kind.
New Gothenburg is a sprawling New York-based universe created by writer duo Ki Brightly and M.D. Gregory. It spans a multitude of interconnected, though frequently standalone, books and series usually involving motorcycle clubs, mobsters, sex workers, and even lawyers and law enforcement officers.
I have this vague urge to read all of them, but it’s a hit or miss. Many times, I am more enamored with the premise as the actual book left much to be desired. Then, there are times I struck gold.
Fool’s Gold is one of those that panned out. And fabulously at that! This is also a standalone.
It’s a new adult tale of the boy from the wrong side of tracks crushing on the boy on the right side. Ethan ‘Shep’ Shephard is a trailer park bad boy who rescued Jonas Nomikos from a thug. And that was how Ethan finally spent some time with his crush, whom he has been making heart eyes for years from across the river.
Jonas is from an ultra-conservative Methodist family, his father the pastor. A friend outing him to his parents had him sent to a conversion therapy camp. And it sparked a series of events that led him and Ethan to crime, violence and unlikely allies.
First, I really loved the YA-ish vibe of the book. It felt like I was reading a cute manga about high school boys and adorably awkward first love moments. The fluff is tempered by the more somber scenes of homophobic people doling out the don’ts and the cannot’s. Ethan and Jonas’s relationship is forbidden on both sides of the river.
Second, the Good Omens dynamic never fails to make me swoon! Who doesn’t squee at bad boys who hate the world being soft for no one but their angelic boyfriends! Ethan is crazy about his angel and has no qualms giving anyone who hurt his Jonas their just desserts. Well, the bad guy got served his, and I was surprised, Jonas didn’t make much fuss given who it is and how it was given.
Third, the duo’s writing was particularly effective here. Most of their books have BDSM-ish or daddy/boy relationships, and while I loved some of them, the rest are repetitive and cringey. Here, the relationship is between two older teens. The plot moved steadily, and there were no lulls at all. I loved the anticipation whenever Ethan and Jonas are about to meet or when Jonas did something unexpected.
The darker second half was a suspenseful hunt for the missing Jonas, a fateful meeting with the notorious motorcycle club, Kings of Men, and a tender night of firsts. It was action-packed, exhilarating, and sweet, a roller-coaster of feels!
Ethan being uber protective of Jonas and giving the big bad bikers attitude was endearing and amusing the way a puppy might snarl. Thing is, puppies are cute, yet their bite has more rabies. Ethan gathering an army and storming enemy camp was complete badass! Jonas riding in his sidecar is adorbs! This angel is not meant for the bitch seat.
The only reason why this is not a 5-star read is because of one glaring error. There was a scene where Ethan and Jonas were chased by a rival biker, and Jonas dropped his cellphone. It was even mentioned it cracked or broke. Then some time after, they were chased by more bikers, and Jonas was magically trying to call the police using his phone. There were no mentions that he picked up his dropped phone beforehand.
Fool’s Gold is a thrill ride, a swoony romance, and a blushy BL manga. It’s a story of forbidden love and a coming-of-age tale of two teenagers caught in a world of bad bikers and worse pastors. This has some dark moments, so heed the trigger warnings. All in all, genuinely brilliant!
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
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Kage Trilogy – Maris Black
*** KAGE (Book 1)
My name is Jamie Atwood, and I’m an addict. I never thought I’d say such a thing. Never had a problem being overly-attached to anything in my life. I came from a perfectly middle-class family, made good grades, and had a hot cheerleader girlfriend… but the truth is, nothing ever really moved me. So how did a guy like me become an addict?
I met Michael Kage.
Kage is an MMA fighter. A famous one. I like to think I helped him get that way.
He’s charming as hell, with looks to rival any movie star and talent to back it up. So why did he need to hire me as an intern Publicist? Simple. He has a darkness in him– like a black hole so deep it could swallow him, and me, and everyone we know– and that’s not good for business.
The first time I met him, I felt the pull. I think the addiction began at that very moment. And even if I’d known then what I know now, I would have fallen for him. How could I not?
For me, Kage is everything.
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
*** KAGE UNLEASHED (Book 2)
In a battle of the heart, who will be the first to submit?
My name is Jamie Atwood, and I am an idiot. Against all odds, I got the attention of Michael Kage, the hottest MMA fighter on the planet. To say he rocked my world would be an understatement. He transformed me completely, made me depend on him, and made me love him. And the sex? Let me put it this way: I’d never been with a guy before I met Kage, but I’d gladly spend the rest of my life on my knees for him. He is my obsession and my addiction. But I did something stupid, and now I’m paying for it. I don’t know if I’ll ever see Kage again.
Being Michael Kage was never easy. Too many demons, too much anger, and not enough to live for. And then I met Jamie Atwood. He’s got this innocence about him that speaks to something deep down inside me- in a place that’s never been touched by anyone. He’s beautiful, smart, and courageous, and he hasn’t been tainted by the darkness that’s ruled my life. I wanted him from the first second I laid eyes on him. It’s selfish, I know. Because you can’t bring an innocent thing into the darkness and not expect something to rub off.
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
*** KAGE UNMASKED (Book 3)
CAN THEIR LOVE SURVIVE THE MOST SHOCKING REVELATION?
SEXY COLLEGE SENIOR Jamie Atwood has fallen hard for MMA dark horse Michael “the Machine” Kage. With his hot muscled body, intoxicating green eyes, and proclivity for rough sex, Kage is a potent aphrodisiac to the innocent boy-next-door. The danger, the intrigue, the feel of his strong hand around his throat, the knowledge that his fighter would kill or die for him. From the moment Kage grabbed onto his hips and channeled all that masculine aggression into claiming his body, Jamie was ruined for anyone else.
PASSIONS RUN HIGH as the lovers try to assimilate into each other’s lives: coming out to family and friends, blending into the high-profile MMA world, dealing with Kage’s sketchy uncle. But behind Kage’s mask of strength and indifference lies a crippling vulnerability, and a devastating secret. As the mask comes off, past traumas surface, dark desires spin out of control, and the damaged fighter is driven to hurt the man he loves more than life itself.
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
Kage Trilogy by Maris Black is an intense, angsty, frustrating, compelling, and hella swoony sports romance between an MMA fighter and his publicist.
Journalism major and college senior Jamie Atwood scored a summer internship as upcoming MMA fighter Michael ‘The Machine’ Kage’s publicist. This after the dork blustered his way through his first interview with Kage. The man was so impressed (and smittened) that he demanded the college boy work for him. Thing is, Jamie is straight and has a girlfriend.
Did it stop Kage? Hell no!
Meanwhile, Jamie couldn’t help but be magnetized by enigmatic Kage. And I couldn’t blame the boy because, damn, the man has quite the presence!
I came into this series blind. The first two books end in cliffhangers, so the trilogy must be read in order. Kage, book 1, is written solely in Jamie’s POV. We see a bumbling, naive college student playing the sports publicist, pretending to know what he’s doing and boldly declaring he’s going to make Michael Kage famous.
In fairness to Jamie, our boy did work hard, building a website, social media presence, and Kage’s image as a sexy MMA fighter. Multi-tasking as the photographer, some of his picture-taking sessions has Kage in temperature-raising poses that led to our boy questioning (and lowkey denying) his sexuality.
Jamie could be spectacularly oblivious to the fact that Kage was doing a slow but thorough wooing. Kage was obsessed from that first interview and proceeded to wine, dine, and splurge, but our boy remained clueless (or in denial). And it wasn’t until, a very provocative pose and Kage spelling it out for him that our boy fell on his knees and willingly swallowed the truth, among other things.
Kage Unleashed and Kage Unmasked are written in both Kage’s and Jamie’s POVs. The two sequels chronicle Kage and Jamie’s struggles as a secret gay couple and how they navigate publicly coming out while they introduce Kage to Jamie’s family and try to outmaneuver Kage’s evil uncle.
There are scenes that might be disturbing to some, like the dubcon-ish scene in the gazebo or that minors were forced to fight to the death. Kage also has PTSD and childhood trauma cause by his abusive uncle.
When I say frustrating, I’m mostly talking about Jamie and the villain, Peter Santori. Jamie is impulsive and makes stupid decisions. I could forgive him. He’s young and still has lots to learn.
Kage and Jamie’s relationship is tested by misunderstandings and miscommunications made worse by separations caused by Kage’s uncle’s evil schemes. This asshole is mostly absent, but his presence and machinations can be felt through their negative impact on Kage and/or Jamie. He’s a psychopath who uses Kage to further his own goals and has no qualms attempting to kill his nephew when he proved too much trouble.
Kage the man is why Kage the trilogy packed a punch. The Machine is highly skilled, unbeatable and hyper-focused on his targets, whether it be winning Jamie or the MMA championship belt. Life threw one challenge after another, first losing his family as a young child, then living under his evil uncle’s thumb and forced to toe the line by pretending to be in a relationship with a woman.
Kage still managed to come out on top, fighting for his and Jamie’s lives. And there is always a fight and a separation. Then Kage getting Jamie back through sheer willpower and two middle fingers to the world and his uncle. Arrow right in my kokoro every time!
Here’s a little spoiler why Kage is everything. Whenever I read somebody’s reaction to a book saying, “I’m a sobbing mess,” I tend to roll my eyes at such hyperbole. Well, there was this scene where Jamie and Kage were forcibly separated and had no contact for some time (evil uncle in action). Jamie convinced his friends to watch Kage’s fight on TV because he missed his boyfriend badly.
Jamie was bragging he helped choose Kage’s entrance song, Kanye West’s I Am A God. But when Kage entered, Jamie was surprised it was a different song playing. His friend googled the song and showed him the title: Teleport 2 Me, Jamie.
You guessed it, I was a sobbing mess! Songs are my krytonite and Kage just had to pick the perfect song!
Kage Trilogy ends with a HFN, a cliffhanger really. I’m glad I read it now and not when it was first released because now I know the story continues with Santori Trilogy. Kage and Jamie aren’t perfect, but with the distinct honor of being the third book to make me cry in all my reading life, I’m giving them 5 stars. These boys hit me with a knock out punch!
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KAGE TRILOGY: Boxset
Morelli Family: Beloved By The Boss – Leighton Greene
M/M Mafia Romance
It’s good to be the Boss. That’s what I thought my whole life.
Now I am the Boss. I’ll shoulder that responsibility with my beloved husband beside me. As long as I have Finch, I can handle whatever life throws at me.
But what they say is true: Be careful what you wish for.
My Family has been decimated. My allies are few. I’m holding onto power by a thread.
And the truth is, my husband is more vulnerable than ever. He’s always been a lost soul, and now he’s suffered yet another crushing loss.
I can’t protect him from Fate’s cruel blows. But I’m determined to protect him from our enemies, no matter what it takes—as soon as I get my own house in order.
Because I’m starting to wonder if there’s a traitor in the Morelli Family…
If I can’t even trust my own men, how can I keep my beloved safe?
Beloved by the Boss is the sequel to Married to the Mobster, and is the second book in the Morelli Family Mafia Romance series.
Married To The Mobster, Book 1 of the series, was released in 2020, and since then, I’ve been waiting for the audiobooks. It wasn’t until last year that the author announced none other than the great Michael Ferraiuolo would be narrating, and I was ecstatic because his style suits the characters to a T!
And it was a spot-on performance for Beloved by the Boss!
In the first book, Luca was forced to marry Finch to save the young man’s life. Unknown to the mobster who forced the marriage, the two had a meet disaster that ended in a magical night and a separation of 5 years. Majority of the book, we see Luca putting Finch at arms length despite obviously worshipping the ground he walks on.
Beloved by the Boss takes a 180-degree turn. Luca, now smarter and with his priorities straight, is the new Don Morelli struggling to gain the respect of his capos and other families. Finch is the center of his universe, and the two have Friday date nights and open communication. Luca is committed to putting Finch first, consequences be damned! And boy, were there consequences!
The Commission, an organization overseeing all the Families, is calling Luca to explain Don Augustino Morelli’s death, along with the death of a made man from the rival Fuscone Family. The Morellis also had to find out who is snitching on them to the Fuscones. As if there’s not enough on their plate, the Donovans’, the Irish mob headed by Finch’s sister Maggie, appears to be working with their rival family.
What I remembered most about Finch is that he is a fun character. He’s a sassy twink and a spoiled rich kid who “wilted like a lettuce left out the fridge” when he was forced to slum it (at that time, Luca was just a regular mafioso and wasn’t rich yet). Now, he’s still sassy and spoiled, and uses his considerable smarts as the unofficial consigliere.
And because the humor was what I remembered most, I forgot how gritty this series could be. The story is told in dual POV. Luca’s POV showed his struggles as the new Morelli boss dealing with one major loss after another. Finch’s POV is all fun and games until the twists and turns slammed in! It was betrayal and death at every turn!
It’s heart-breaking because most of the deaths and betrayals are connected to him directly and they hit him hard! Finch wasn’t just there to make saucy comments. He was also a grieving son, a reformed drug addict, a vulnerable target, and a mob boss’s husband trying to roll with the punches life and mobsters threw at him.
Luca and Finch don’t know who to trust, not even those related by blood. I loved how the two went from strength to strength, working as a team because
“When you want something done right–”
“Do it with your husband,” I finished for him.
Their romance is still as sizzling as ever, the chemistry even better now that Luca reveals an unexpectedly poetic side with his swoony lines. And it tickles me pink every time I hear him call Finch “baby bird” or “angel.”
And it’s not just the chemistry. I also loved how they grew as a couple and as individuals. The scene where Luca surprised Finch at the wake spoke volumes about how well they knew each other and how far Luca will go just to be there when Finch needed him.
I love reading about mafia politics and it was fascinating to see the Commission in action or the divide between the west and east coast families. The writing struck a good balance between humorous and dark, and between the action, romance, and suspense.
The supporting cast stood out as well. Frankie and Celia have always been there, so I hope to see them in future books despite what happened (It was tragic and bittersweet). I’m excited for Angelo’s book and Aiden’s, too. One casualty gutted me because he was such great character, and I’m sorry we won’t be seeing him again.
Beloved by the Boss is a compelling story of two men deeply entangled in marriage and the mafia. It is an almost perfect sequel to an entertaining mafia romance. I took away half star because it went on a bit too long. Overall, emotional, thrilling, and hella swoony!
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
Also, the book models are perfect as blue-eyed devil Luca and golden-haired Finch!
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This is a round up of the books I read on the 2nd half of this year that I’m too lazy to do a full review.