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    REVIEW: The Murder Between Us by Tal Bauer

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    Noah & Cole Thriller: The Murder Between Us – Tal Bauer

    It was just one night.
    It was just one mistake.

    FBI Agent Noah Downing had questions about his sexuality that a single night in Vegas should have answered. But dawn finds him on a plane back to Iowa, back on the trail of a vicious serial killer who disappeared six years ago and has suddenly resurfaced. There’s nothing like a murder investigation to escape an existential crisis.

    FBI profiler Cole Kennedy is still reeling after finding a heart-stopping connection with a seemingly perfect man, only for him to vanish. When he’s sent to Iowa to profile the killer terrorizing America’s heartland, he finds more questions than answers – both about the murderer and about Noah, the last man he ever expected to see again.

    A twisted secret stretches between Cole and Noah, tangled with questions they both have about each other. But now, thrown together, they’ll have to unravel the killer’s profile and follow his trail… back to the very beginning, to where everyone’s questions are answered once and for all.

    ***This is an M|M romantic suspense standalone novel, featuring a second chance romance, the hunt for a twisted serial killer, and one man’s journey to acceptance. 80k words.


    Wow. Just wow!

    I’ve heard so many good things about Tal Bauer’s books. This is my first and it’s already a 5-star read!

    The Murder Between Us is about closeted FBI agent Noah Downing letting himself, for once and just this once because heck, it’s Vegas, hook up with a guy to answer that burning question about his sexuality. He let himself be swept away on a date by a very charming man named Cole Kennedy. His very first date with a man was so perfect, it felt like a dream. I was swept away by this part too.

    They had a magical night together and promised to meet the next day. But Noah was suddenly called away on a murder case back in his hometown, Des Moines. This turned out to be the work of a serial killer who supposedly vanished 6 years ago. They needed a profiler. So guess who showed up as their new profiler?

    “Damn midwestern men!”

    Noah and Cole are compelling characters that immediately drew me in. They are both brilliant, competent and highly respected in their field. From the get go, the two men had AMAZING chemistry.

    That chemistry remained strong even as they go through the lows of their relationship. And boy, these parts really hurt! Meanwhile, the highs were heart-meltingly adorable. It was a one step forward, two steps back with them. It can be argh! but so worth it in the end.

    Noah is sweet and vulnerable. He’s a doting father to his teenage daughter, Katie. He’s afraid to come out because he might lose custody. My heart went out to him. He wanted so much to be himself but he was so scared. Katie was his whole world. The poor man deserves to be happy, if only he let himself.

    His reunion with Cole was all sorts of awkward but even as Noah frequently doubts himself to the point of self-sabotage, Cole is always there. Cole is beyond wonderful! So patient and loving. I loved how his strength held them together through the worst moments.

    Katie deserves a mention because she is awesome. Her heart to heart talk with her dad after she found out about him and Cole made me teary eyed.

    The procedural part is as equally riveting as the romance. The crimes were quite gruesome. The case was difficult to solve. I loved all the twist and turns, especially the one at the climax that really took me by surprise. That was pretty clever!

    The Murder Between Us is a beautifully written story, with a intricate plot and prose that kept me hooked. I finished it in one sitting. From that super sweet beginning to the painful struggle for self-acceptance to the hard-fought HEA that run alongside the high stress investigation and heart-stopping confrontations with the killer, this was truly a rollercoaster from beginning to end. The feels just hits you hard, right in the kokoro. This book totally slayed me!

    Rating:
    5 Stars – absolutely perfect

    Soundtrack: The Space Between
    Artist: Dave Matthews Band
    Album: Everyday


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    The Murder Between Us: US | UK

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    REVIEW: The Gangster by C.S Poe

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    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!

    P.S.

    Magic & Steam should be read in order. Gillian and Gunner’s story began where all grand adventures begin, in the Wild Wild West. Check out my review of Book 1, The Engineer, here.

    Rating:
    5 Stars – absolutely perfect

    Soundtrack: Burn It Down
    Artist: AWOLNATION
    Album: Megalithic Symphony


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    THE GANGSTER

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    SERIES REVIEW: Vigilance Books 1 & 2 by Silvia Violet

    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.


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    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.

    Rating:
    2.5 Stars – far from hate but not quite a like

    Soundtrack: You Can Dominate Me
    Artist: Andy Samford
    Album: You Can Embrace Eternity’s Cosmic Truth


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    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.

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: Surrender Your Heart
    Artist: Missing Persons
    Album: Rhyme & Reason


    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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    GIORGIO | NIALL | LEO

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    REVIEW: Double Or Nothing by Cari Z & L.A. Witt

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    Double Trouble: Double Or Nothing – Cari Z & L.A. Witt

    Rich Cody joined the U.S. Marshals to hunt down bad guys, not babysit witnesses. Orders are orders, though, and now he’s protecting a hacker with ties to the Albanian and Sicilian mobs. It’s just another exciting day in WITSEC.

    Leotrim Nicolosi was born into a world of crime and bloodshed. When that bloodshed hits too close to home, taking down Leo’s boyfriend—the son of a notorious mob boss—Leo is determined to destroy the Grimaldi family. He’s got evidence that will send every last Grimaldi to prison, he’s got the family’s wealth in an electronic chokehold, and he’s got a vendetta that can only be settled with the blood of the man who killed his lover.

    When a routine transfer to a safehouse goes horribly wrong, Rich and Leo narrowly escape with their lives. With the Marshals compromised and Leo being framed for murder, he and Rich are on the run from criminals and law enforcement alike. They have no one to trust except each other, and nowhere to go that their enemies can’t reach.

    And the only way out might mean making a deal with the Devil.

    This novel is approximately 77,000 words.


    How far will you go to keep a witness safe?

    Rich Cody found out exactly how far the hard way when he was assigned Leotrim Nicolosi, a hacker holding information that will bring mafia families down. His transfer to a safehouse went to shit and the Marshal and his witness found themselves on the run from not only the Albanian and Sicilian mob but from several law enforcement agencies as well. There was no one they can trust, not the police nor the US Marshals, nor the FBI. The mob has a long reach.

    Double Or Nothing hit the ground running with a shootout that set the fast-paced action/suspense vibe throughout the book. There was no rest for the weary, Rich and Leo were constantly on the move, driving from one point of the American heartland to the opposite end. The only downtime they had was in the missile silo/bunker when they asked Rich’s marine buddy for help.

    I loved how the authors kept several levels of tension going. The book was very effective in the giving off that constant sense of danger hanging like the Sword of Damocles over Rich and Leo’s heads. Meanwhile, the sexual tension was a simmering slow burn that went nuclear in the missile silo.

    Beyond their romantic connection, there was Rich’s unwavering loyalty to his witness and his duty as a Marshal. I loved his dogged determination to see things through to the end. Grieving the loss of his lover, Leo is equally determined to bring down his killers. The two men took on an entire mob. They didn’t hold anything back.

    The book would make a great action movie. There’s a lot of explosions and gunfights and car chases that will keep you on the edge of your seat. There were twists and turns, double crosses and close calls. It was one heck of a mission.

    There was one scene at the end, where they both just went through hell and Rich thought he lost Leo. That part where he was hugging him while shaking with shock and exhaustion was one of the most poignant moments. You can really feel his heart exploding with emotions. Mine did just that.

    So just how far will you go to keep a witness safe? For US Marshall Rich Cody, all the way.

    P.S.

    Double Trouble is a duology and best read when you already have both books in hand. Double Or Nothing ends with a cliffhanger. Rich and Leo’s mission continues in Doubling Down.

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

    Soundtrack: Run
    Artist: Foo Fighters
    Album: Concrete and Gold


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    KINDLE
    KINDLE

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    DOUBLE OR NOTHING | DOUBLING DOWN