• book,  Uncategorized

    REVIEW: Stacking the Deck by Charlie Cochet

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    The Kings: Wild Cards: Stacking the Deck – Charlie Cochet

    Ex-Special Forces Communications Sergeant Jacopo “Jack” Constantino knows a thing or two about communications technology. As head of Cyber Security at Four Kings Security, Jack spends his days working with high-tech systems. Life for Jack is pretty uneventful—despite working with his brothers-in-arms—and he finds himself longing for a little excitement.

    Be careful what you wish for.

    Two years ago, Fitz Harlow captured Jack’s heart and walked away with it. Now he’s back.

    Fitz spent the last two years picking up the pieces of his life after a disastrous end to a ten-year relationship. After much therapy, and ice cream, Fitz leaves the fashion world behind and returns home to St. Augustine to open his own high-end salon, Hair Comes Trouble. Two years later, Fitz finally has the quiet, peaceful life he’s wanted for so long. There’s only one thing missing, or rather, one man missing, but Fitz has his doubts. With Jack, he’s not just gaining a boyfriend, he’s gaining a boyfriend, his family of mischief-magnet ex-Green Berets, and one highly opinionated Belgian Malinois.

    Fitz and Jack discover their connection has only grown stronger over time, thanks in part to meddling friends, but just as they start to pick up where they left off, someone takes objection to their reunion. Danger hides in the shadows, a stalker determined to keep Fitz out of Jack’s life, no matter the cost. With the odds stacked against them, can Jack and Fitz win a battle against an unknown enemy, or will Jack lose Fitz forever?

    The Kings: Wild Cards series is a spin-off of the Four Kings Security series.


    I know Charlie Cochet writes great humor (witness The Prince and His Bedeviled Bodyguard) but Stacking The Deck had me LOLing. Scenes from the book even started popping in my head the next day. I was chuckling to myself while working. These guys are crazy!

    The Kings here refer to King, Ace, Red and Lucky who co-own the Four Kings Security company along with Jack and his best friend, Sacha a.k.a Joker. All of them are ex-military. The Kings have their own books and I’m pretty sure Joker is going to get one.

    Our hero of the moment is Jack, head of the cybersecurity department. He’s super smart, sweet and nerdy. He’s a Macguyver who can fix anything from broken fridges to military parachutes but can’t cook to save his life. Not even toast because him and kitchen appliances don’t get along.

    Fitz was a runway hairstylist who got tired of the limelight. He’s been together with his former boyfriend for 10 years until he caught him cheating. He needed a fresh start. Fitz is first to admit he’s high maintenance. He’s wary of relationships because of his cheating ex.

    He and Jack had an brief but unforgettable history together where Jack saved his life. This probably happened in the other books. The attraction was strong but Fitz wasn’t in the right headspace yet to start a new relationship. So he ghosted Jack.

    Fast forward present day, Fitz is now in a better place, running a successful salon. Jack receives a text from him about a hair appointment and promptly got distracted from monitoring Joker and the guys on the job. He got razzed about it because Fitz texted all of them

    Despite all the USTs exploding all over the place, the romance was a slow-burn. Trust had to be gained and the two danced around their feelings. Everybody did their best to help them along because they knew these two dorks are a forgone conclusion.

    I loved how the book didn’t hold back on the fluff. There’s this really squee-tastic scene where Fitz was drugged and Jack had to keep him awake on the way to the hospital. Fitz basically confessed everything while Jack in his best gentlemanly self, tried not to take advantage of Fitz in his present condition. The next day, Laz, Fitz’s bestfriend told him all about it. Then he finds Jack in his kitchen where he burns the toast.

    Jack is adorbs! His brain short-circuited when he realized he fell in love and had to be talked through it by Joker. Joker his wild, dog-loving, hates being called by his real name, “I’m never falling in love” best friend was suddenly the voice of reason. What is the world coming to?

    Also, famous last words, Sacha.

    This is a book about friendship and camaraderie. The author really did a great job with her characters because I remember all of them. King is the alpha and their big brother. His boyfriend is Leo, the best hacker of them all. Red’s a former military doctor. He’s a great cook. His boyfriend is Laz, a fashion photographer. Ace, purveyor of all mischief, is about to be married to his billionaire fiance, Colton. Colton is friends with Laz and Fitz. Lucky is a Latinx whose boyfriend is Mason, a former detective.

    The guys are awesome but the star of the show is Chip, Joker’s military dog. Everybody loves Chip.

    I appreciated that the author really made the effort to get all her well-loved characters in the picture so readers who want to check in on their favorites get a treat. There were a lot of cute scenes that were mostly there for cuteness sake, all designed to reduce you into a warm puddle of goo. The writing is so thorough in providing every detail, it’s like she anticipated all our questions. It gave all the information we need, giving hints to potential love interests because 99% of the male characters are queer

    The thing with this, however, is that it’s easy to guess who the good guys are and who’s not. If their eye color is mentioned, it’s probably either they have a book or will get one in the future. The faceless ones are usually up to no good which makes the mystery weaker. Understandable, since it comes as third priority to the romance and the group dynamics.

    While totally consumable as a standalone, Stacking the Deck is best experienced by reading Four Kings Security first. I have not read the main series yet and nearly got lost on the who’s who at the first parts because this had a huge cast. Not only you meet all the ex-Green Berets and their boyfriends, there’s also the other supporting characters that make their appearances here and there. There were a lot of inside jokes and references to hilarious past events that had me itching to start on the other series.

    All in all, this spin-off is off to a rocking start! Recommended if you’re up for some fantastic, fan-servicey, escapist fun.

    P.S.

    Review of The Prince and His Bedeviled Bodyguard here

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

    Soundtrack: Moonlight
    Artist: Future Islands
    Album: As Long As You Are


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  • book,  Uncategorized

    REVIEW: Their Bounty by K.A. Merikan

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    Four Mercenaries: Their Bounty – K.A. Merikan

    — Taken. Prized. Possessed. Loved. —

    Clover is an orphan and has led a tough and chaotic life. No stability. No money. No friends. He trusts no one.

    His already miserable life takes a nosedive when he ends up in the hands of a human trafficking gang. Someone has placed a request for a young albino man, and Clover is to become the property of a mysterious buyer who will stop at nothing to satisfy their depraved desire. Clover’s fate seems sealed until four bounty hunters appear to take out his captors and accidentally save him.

    The four mercenaries want to move on, but when Clover pleads for protection, they offer it to him at a price. In the beginning, the arrangement is all kinds of shady, but as he gets to know the four men who’ve taken him on a wild ride, his developing feelings might become as dangerous as the elusive buyer.

    But can a relationship with four such different men even work? Men who kill for a living? Men so full of contradictions?

    Tank. The massive ex-soldier eager to be Clover’s Daddy.
    Pyro. Wild, tattooed, with a filthy mouth and an itch for violence.
    Boar. Ginger, bearded, a big teddy bear who can turn into a grizzly.
    Drake. Dark and dangerous, with a tongue as sharp as his knives.

    Can these men provide him with the love and security he craves? Or has Clover made the worst mistake of his life?

    THEIR BOUNTY is a dark gay harem contemporary romance, book 1 in the “Four Mercenaries” trilogy. The story contains scenes of explicit violence, offensive language, morally ambiguous characters and lots of scorching hot, emotional, explicit scenes.

    POSSIBLE SPOILERS:
    Themes: abduction, polyamory, mercenaries, bounty hunters, albinism, commitment issues, indecent proposal, dark past, male bonding, human trafficking, size difference, enemies to lovers, danger, alpha male, found family, size difference, distrust, shared, victim and protector


    Apart from their Criminal Delights contribution, Wrong Way Home, I am hard-pressed to find a K.A. Merikan that sticks. Unexpectedly, this polyamorous series opener seemed to do the trick.

    I picked up Their Bounty after reading Our King, Our Master, another poly series that had interesting characters but poor execution. I’m neutral on poly but I wanted to see better examples of how this particular trope can be done.

    The four mercenaries are a brotherhood of former soldiers who take on jobs that bring down the bad guys while bringing in the money. On one of their jobs, they stumbled upon a 19-year old orphaned albino kid chained up to be sold to a mysterious buyer.

    The kid, Clover, was part of a pick pocket gang ran by a local criminal. He was getting too old and too conspicuous given his unusual looks. Aware that he is a wanted man with no defenses, Clover pretends he has friends waiting for him in New York and negotiates his safe passage to the city in exchange for the men using him while they escort him on their roadtrip.

    The leader of the group was Tank, a huge man whom Clover immediately tagged as his Daddy. He’s level-headed and he’s no fool. He knew what kind game Clover was playing but he felt protective of the kid. Tank’s alright but I don’t really go for Daddy kink.

    Boar and Pyro are a couple very much in love but sexually incompatible. Boar is a hearts and flowers kind of teddy bear while Pyro is a blue-haired punk with ink and fast bike. Together, they found Clover to be the missing link in their relationship.

    Everyone was quite smittened with their new boy. All except Drake. So of course he’s my favorite. I have huge respects for people who are not easily swayed by a pretty face and Drake was the only one who was unimpressed by their new plaything. He kept his distance. He was the only one in their group who thought they should stop spoiling Clover and teach him practical skills. Like self-defense especially with bad guys coming after him.

    Drake was the main reason I stuck around. There was something about him, something smoldering behind his frosty exterior. He was the most nuanced of all the characters and therefore the most compelling. He talked some sense into Clover and in doing so revealed deeper hurts he rarely showed his brothers. He was definitely worth winning over especially when the ice did melt bit by bit. He wouldn’t admit it, but I bet he’s Clover’s favorite too.

    I really liked how the authors made all of them stand out. It was tricky to find a nice balance between five MCs where each can shine individually and with their love interests. The authors succeeded in doing just that. The men each gave something to Clover who, in turn, gave them what was missing in their lives. It’s what made their 5-person romance work. They were like different puzzle pieces forming a cohesive whole

    An oversight by the mercs came back to bite their asses and poor Clover was captured again. Clover was thrown into the very sinister world of human menageries and most definitely not the fun kind. Will he ever see his men again?

    Unlike the other poly series where meeting a new character is just prelude to sex, the book had a solid story line that was pulled off well. Even if it was only secondary to the relationship development and group dynamics, the mystery + action-suspense part carried enough weight that added a lot of excitement to the overall plot. I liked how that twist came out of nowhere and threw me for a loop.

    Their Bounty falls somewhere between like and love. I had a great time with it but some aspects were not my cup of tea. And TBH, Drake was all I cared about although I liked the other guys just fine. Clover was the one I’m least drawn to. He tended to act like a spoiled brat. And really, for a street kid, I expected better survival skills other than offering sexual favors.

    Please do heed the warnings. The book touches upon human trafficking and other sordid crimes. There are some graphic details, enough to give color but not too much to completely gross the reader out. It’s dark but not so much. Probably medium gray on the blackness scale. Some things were somewhat dub-con. Most of the more disturbing aspects were off-page or hinted at.

    The song for this book is Sweet Surrender, originally by Sarah Maclachlan. It’s a lazy choice because I have a hard time looking for a song about poly romances. The lyrics kinda fits the way Clover left his miserable life behind and surrendered himself to four dominant people. Turned out to be a pretty sweet deal.

    Not outright recommending. I know how most people feel about poly so I say read this if you’re feeling adventurous.

    P.S.

    Sharing these face claims from Ele, a GR reviewer because they’re perfect:

    L to R: Drake, Tank, Clover, Boar, Pyro

    Posts on K.A. Merikan here.

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: Sweet Surrender
    Artist: Thierry Amiel
    Album: Où Vont Les Histoires ?


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  • book,  Uncategorized

    REVIEW: Blaze by Jocelynn Drake & Rinda Elliott

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    Unbreakable Bonds: Blaze – Jocelynn Drake & Rinda Elliott

    The rings have been selected.
    The champagne placed on ice.
    The cake decorated.


    And the pre-wedding sex is off the charts…

    Lucas Vallois and Andrei Hadeon are finally ready to walk down the aisle. There’s just one small problem.

    A ghost from Lucas’s past shows up days before the wedding, desperate for help. Against his better judgement, Lucas and his best friend, Ashton Frost, plan a fast trip back to the one place they swore they’d never go: their hometown in Oklahoma. But the danger is worse than they expected.

    Now, they’re in a race to track down a killer, keep a young girl safe, and get Lucas back in time to say, “I do.” 


    Unbreakable Bonds is centered around four men who have deep connections with each other. Lucas Vallois, the alpha and the center who holds everything together. Ashton ‘Snow’ Frost, dark and brooding, is a trauma surgeon and the one Lucas considers his brother. Rowan ‘Rowe’ Ward, laid back and goofy, they met him during basic military training. He is their warrior. Their heart is Ian Pierce, a talented chef. He’s adorable, the type you want to put in your pocket to keep safe. Well, I want to put them all in my pocket really. I love these guys! ♡

    Blaze is Lucas and Andrei keeping the passion burning bright.

    Book 5 found the couple neck-deep in wedding preparations when Lucas’s estranged sister walked into his life again asking for help. Her daughter was missing. Despite not wanting to do anything with the hometown and the family who spit him out, Lucas had to help. His bestfriend Snow, had to go with him because Snow will not let Lucas face his dark past alone. This even if, Snow himself had an even shittier, more traumatic memories of their town.

    One of the best parts of this series is Snow and Lucas’s relationship. The authors could have easily turned it into a friends-to-lovers story and a super intense one at that. Instead, they did something better.

    They gave Snow and Lucas something unique and infinitely more precious. An unconditional love that has nothing to do with romance, sex or blood ties. It simply existed between them since they were seven.

    The two were practically joined at hip and nothing could go between them. Not even that one time Snow was in a really bad state and Lucas was forced to have sex with him (Snow was wracked with guilt afterwards and the two never did it again). They were frequently mistaken as a couple. They don’t care and had remained steadfast always. I haven’t really encountered such kind of bond in other MM books before, and a platonic, non-shifter one at that. That’s why their friendship is important to me.

    Lucas and Andrei’s relationship is different but equally important. Lucas’s whole world were his friends, Snow, Rowe and Ian. Andrei is his center. Everyone loved Andrei because, aside from being a genuinely lovable person overall, he was the best thing to happened to Lucas. He made the billionaire a much happier man.

    We also get to see the boys play with duct tape and weird codenames because Rowe and his boyfriend Noah had to be in on the action or else it’s a not a party. And by that, they staked out the bad guys, recorded their evil deeds and things went boom! This is why Rowe and Noah are the best.

    Meanwhile, Ian was going crazy organizing the wedding because Lucas and Andrei kept making changes. The biggest hitch of all was that none of the wedding party were in the right city, or even the right state, couple of days before the wedding.

    Thing is I sat on this book for months because I was struggling to finish it. I was more into the characters than the plot. My love for the Unbreakable boys was the main driving force in helping me finish this because in all honesty, I really didn’t care much about what happened to Lucas’s niece. Once I got past this point, the story picked up.

    The book gave Snow and Lucas some much needed closure. Their families were horrid homophobic people who don’t have redeeming values. Only Lucas’ sister and niece were okay people who had accepted Lucas for who he is.

    Normally, I finish a book first before choosing a song for it. When I first heard Lukas Batteau’s catchy ballad on the Dutch internet radio station, Indiexl.nl last year, I knew it would be perfect for the Unbreakable Bonds series. I’ve been dying to use it specifically for this book.

    Blaze gave us all the things we have come to love about the series and more: the hilarious banters, the OTT action, the squee-tastic romances, the enduring connections between a memorable group of friends who were always there for each other no matter what. And we have now the official union of two important characters.

    The Unbreakable family just got bigger and stronger. A mighty alliance indeed.

    P.S

    Unbreakable Bonds is best experience in sequence. Meet the boys and fall in love. Review of Unbreakable Bonds books here
    Review of Jocelynn Drake books here.

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: A Mighty Alliance
    Artist: Lukas Batteau
    Album: Slow Traveler


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    8-book bundle