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    REVIEW: The Venetian And The Rum Runner by L.A. Witt

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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.

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

    Soundtrack: Run
    Artist: Hozier
    Album: Hozier


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    KINDLE
    AUDIOBOOK
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    REVIEW: Sweet As Honey by Lucy Lennox

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    Aster Valley: Sweet As Honey – Lucy Lennox

    When I rode my bike into Aster Valley, it was supposed to be temporary. A quick, relaxing visit with friends. No entanglements. Zero drama.

    But then I saw the bumblebee being harassed on the side of the highway.

    More specifically, I saw Truman Sweet, Aster Valley’s resident botanist, spice merchant, and bee-costume enthusiast, being harassed. And the second I got involved, all my plans for a quick departure scattered like pollen on the breeze.

    It turns out that Truman—adorkably shy, relentlessly sunshiny, hot as all heck, reluctantly-still-a-virgin Truman—has secrets. Secrets someone in this charming small town doesn’t want brought to light. Secrets that rouse every one of my protective instincts just as surely as his kisses rouse… other parts of me.

    And before I know it, I’m thinking being entangled might not be so bad… if it’s Truman I’m tangled up with.

    I’ll do whatever it takes to protect Truman from the dangers in his past, but after a lifetime of loneliness and disappointment, how can I possibly convince him to trust me with his future?


    Time for another much anticipated visit to Aster Valley, a small town in the Colorado Mountains that’s big on charm and personality.

    The second full-length novel, Sweet As Honey, delivers a delightful love story between an adorkable plant geek and his adoring bad boy biker.

    It all started with a bumblebee.

    So Sam Rigby was cruising down the highway, minding his own business, when he spotted a bumblebee being harassed. He comes to its rescue and discovers it’s the friend of his bestfriend Mikey, the spice shop owner Truman Sweet. Then a truck comes barreling down the road and crushes his bike. They go to the town to report the incident, only for cops to surround them. Truman faints and Sam ends up looking like the bad guy.

    As Sam and Truman got to know each other better and become progressively closer, Sam learns that that incident was one of the many, many harassments Truman had endured under the hands of a pair of brothers. Their uncle is the town sheriff so good luck reporting that. All because of a shared past that Truman kept secret throughout most his life.

    This series has some of the worst villains out there. Give me blood and gore chaotic evils and I could take them on any time. It’s the lawful evil that really, really gets under my skin. In Book 1, it was Mikey’s dad, the coach. A guy who pretends he’s okay with queers but works underhandedly to undermine his gay son. Here, it’s Truman’s friend, Barney, and Sam’s mother and his sisters.

    Without giving too much away, these people pretend to look out for one’s own good then proceeds to gaslight, manipulate, spout biblical references even fake a medical emergency just to get their way. I hated them. They almost made me quit. I felt they belong to darker books. They are effective emotion-wise and plot-wise but they don’t encourage re-reads simply because I don’t want to meet them again.

    Happily, the good guys were awesome and they are most definitely worth the stay. I really enjoyed going through each MC’s thoughts. Truman is strong and brave, brilliant and funny. He had me chuckling in a couple of scenes. At times, very awkward but when you hit upon something relevant to his interests, off he goes talking non-stop about one trivia after another. I loved it when he’s on a roll. And Sam adored it too.

    We first knew Sam as Mikey’s bestfriend from Right As Raine. He owns a construction business. He doesn’t consider himself a relationship kind of guy. But the thing about Sam is that he’s very protective about the people he cares about. And his family is also shit. That’s why he and Mikey always looked out for each other. Then he found Truman, realized this was his person and grabbed on tightly.

    This book is one of the most wonderful and fluffily sweet romances out there. I lived for those heart-melting scenes! Sam and Truman were just perfect together. I loved the way they instinctively knew what the other needs without trampling all over the other person’s self-worth and autonomy. This was especially relevant because of the way Truman was treated by other people. I also loved how they used their brains, trusted one another and held on even as bad guys attempted to tear them apart again and again.

    I know I said the antagonists almost pulled me out of the story but this book is really more fluff than drama. It’s made up of a cast that I loved seeing again and again (except the bullies, of course). Tiller and Mikey played prominent roles throughout the story and Gentry and Winter also made appearances. So I recommend reading all the books in order, including the prequel.

    Sweet As Honey is a story about small towns secrets, family drama, building friendships, knowing who to trust and finding that person who feels like home. Overall, I had a great time with Sam and Truman. Aster Valley proved, yet again, it’s the place to be.

    P.S.

    Yes, the first two books are not to be missed. Witness a magical rockstar moment between folk rock superstar Gentry Kane and the titular Winter Waites in the prequel novella. Squee every time multi-million-dollar football receiver Tiller Raine calls his chef/coach’s son, Michael Vinning, my Mikey in Right As Raine.

    Reviews of Winter Waites and Right As Raine here.

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

    Soundtrack: Honey
    Artist: Boy Pablo
    Album: Wachito Rico!


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    RIGHT AS RAINE | SWEET AS HONEY

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    REVIEW: Shadows Deceive by S.C. Wynne

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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.

    P.S.

    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.

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

    Soundtrack: Nearly Lost You
    Artist: Screaming Trees
    Album: Sweet Oblivion


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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: This Is Not Revenge by Romilly King

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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.

    Romilly King set the bar high with her Handled series. I completely went gaga over Gray and Nathan. Well, here’s another psycho pair for us to love.

    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.

    P.S.

    This Is Not Revenge is book 1 of a trilogy. It ends with a cliffhanger.

    Rating:
    5 Stars – absolutely perfect

    Soundtrack: Safety
    Artist: Yoke Lore
    Album: Far Shore


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    Kindle

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    REVIEW: How To Lure A Hunter by Alice Winters

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    VRC: Vampire Related Crimes: How To Lure A Hunter – Alice Winters

    Alexei
    When Marcus Church brings his brother Claude in to help solve an unusual murder, I’m positive he did it just to disrupt my monotonous life. None of my coworkers in the Vampire Related Crimes unit seem to understand that I want to keep a wall between me and everyone else—especially Claude, who does everything he can to break through it with an annoying smile. After more vampires begin to die, Claude pinpoints the actions of the killers to a group of vampire hunters, leaving us in a race to stop them. When I discover that I have a target on my back, I’m surprised that Claude insists on staying by my side, even when things go from bad to worse. I’m determined to keep him out—I’ve lost enough people in my life—but I can’t stop feeling something every time he breaks through.

    Claude
    When I reunited with my brother, I never imagined it’d throw me right into Alexei Karsynov’s path. He’s short-tempered, stubborn, and dangerously adorable whenever he smiles—he just doesn’t realize it yet. When Marcus asks me to help with a case, it gives me the excuse I need to get closer to Alexei, but what I discover threatens to change everything. Suddenly, I find myself wanting to do anything to protect Alexei and to see him smile, despite his efforts to keep his distance from others. I’m determined to show him that he can’t live in the past when his future is so much brighter.

    How to Lure a Hunter is a 106k word book that contains: Clothes so bright they could cause retina damage, a ridiculous amount of gifts showered on a reluctant recipient, a cranky Russian with a soft spot he tries to hide, a library full of books that need to be treated with the proper respect, some possibly unhealthy sibling teasing, and a sunshiny 300-year-old vampire with an unexpected protective streak.


    Alice Winters is an author who likes playing with the grumpy+sunshiny trope. This is the core dynamics of many of her works. And she made one of her best pairings yet with a super cranky Russian detective and a colorful peacock of a vampire.

    How To Lure A Hunter is the third book of VRC: Vampire Related Crimes. This stars Alexei Karsynov a.k.a. Karsyn, a 150 year old Russian vampire working as a detective. He was the anti-social grump Finn befriended in the first book, How To Vex A Vampire. You know what they say about introverts making friends by being adopted by an extrovert? Well, that’s basically Alexei.

    The other extrovert who is very determined to adopt Alexei by all means necessary is Claude Church, Marcus’s creatively dressed twin brother. You couldn’t tell by his neon jackets and zebra prints but Claude is actually very smart. He is, in fact, a scholar who amassed a library of ancient books and is an expert in vampire history.

    This is the very reason why he was called upon as a consultant in their murder investigations. Occult symbols and ancient artifacts were found at the scenes of the crime. He and Alexei had to work together to figure out the clues that were somehow tied to Alexei’s secret past. Something the detective was desperate to keep hidden.

    The author’s trademark humor hit the sweet spot in this installment, a lot of silly scenarios and snarky banter but nothing too over the top or exhausting. The mystery was a bit predictable but I enjoyed it nonetheless, especially with how it was tied to Alexei’s history and character development.

    Alexei!!! I just adored him! I was fully invested in getting to know why he is the way he is. He is the most lovable tsundere to ever grump his way into everyone’s hearts. He had so much hurts and so convinced he is unlovable because of his past, he decided he should be alone for the rest of his life rather than have his heart be broken again. Being burned alive by a loved one could do that to a person.

    He was valiantly keeping everyone at arm’s length but Claude was relentless. Having latched on to the Russian in the previous books, he pursued the man with the good-natured persistence of a Labrador. I loved Claude just as much because he was never annoying in his pursuit. He was also very generous, thoughtful and caring. Not just with Alexei but also with his brother, even though Marcus had tried to kill him several times. He even risked his life to save Finn in book two, How To Elude A Vampire.

    It was a joy to see Alexei grow as a character and how Claude convinced him he was always going to be there for him no matter what. The part where Alexei finally accepted that, and brilliantly performed with such overflow of emotions by narrator Michael Ferraiuolo, that scene went straight to my kokoro. It was, hands down, my favorite in the entire series.

    How To Lure A Hunter is the best book in VRC. I don’t know how the next one would top that. It’s a great balance of humor, mystery and romance. I was already rooting for Alexei and Claude even before I read their book and they came together wonderfully here. They proved that cheerful scholars in flashy neon suits are doggedly steadfast and that it’s the grumpy ones who have the softest hearts.

    Also, solnyshko ♡ (ˆ⌣ˆԅ)

    P.S.

    VRC: Vampire Related Crimes is best read in order. Read the first two books and find out how a tiny human with mechanical limbs tamed the big bad 300-year-old vampire who hates humans.

    Check out my reviews below:
    How To Vex A Vampire
    How To Elude A Vampire

    Rating:
    4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away

    Soundtrack: Brighter Than Sunshine
    Artist: Aqualung
    Album: Still Life


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    REVIEW: Down Low by Parker St. John

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    Down Home: Down Low – Parker St. John

    His broken bones could finally mend their broken bond…

    Bull riding was the only thing that calmed the thrill-seeking, self-destructive beast inside of Calvin Craig. It allowed him to escape a small-minded town and the pain of his troubled youth, fleeing to bright lights and big city fame without looking back.

    One trip on the horns of the wrong bull changed everything.

    Cal is forced to come crawling back home for the first time in ten years, his body broken and riding days behind him. But not everyone is happy for the return of their local celebrity.

    Eli Jackson was once the tall, dark, and sinful preacher’s son who had Cal wrapped around his little finger. Now the steely-eyed sheriff of Sweetwater, Eli is hell bent on running him right back out of town. He’s never forgiven Cal for the spectacular implosion of their relationship. Even though the lingering tension soon has them burning up the sheets, he refuses to be tamed.

    Cal is surprised to find himself rising to a new challenge: breaking the bull that is Eli Jackson.

    He might have run out of luck, but he’s not out of miracles… yet.


    Down Low was an emotional rollercoaster. I found myself enjoying the heck out of it. It was so good! This is an angsty, second chance, friends to enemies to lovers story of high school sweethearts Calvin Craig and Eli Jackson.

    Cal and Eli were each other first loves. They had to keep their relationship a secret because Eli was the son of a hellfire and brimstone pastor. In their senior year, Cal wanted to come out but Eli was hesitant. He was heading to college and couldn’t jeopardize his future. They had an ugly fight. The next day, Cal disappeared.

    Ten years after, we see Cal returning home (slunking more like). For the past decade, he was a bull-riding superstar and had the broken bones to show for it. He was still healing in several parts, too injured to ride again. The moment he arrived in Sweetwater, he was in for a lot of surprises. Also, Eli hated his guts.

    Cal is a “pipsqueak who doesn’t know when to quit” according to Eli. He was bullied in high school. Bull-riding is all he knows. He is a self-destructive adrenaline junkie who would risk permanent injury to save those he cared about. Eli is the town sheriff. He is level-headed and dependable but has a dark streak hidden deep inside.

    The book is solely from Cal’s POV. I wished we had Eli’s POV too. Sometimes, when we get a 1st person POV from a person who pines for somebody, it feels unbalanced. Like the other person has all the power. But this was soon put to rights as the story progressed. We witness Eli being drawn to Cal like a magnet and learn his side of the story.

    The book perfectly depicted all the conflicting, heart-crushing emotions of seeing your first love after 10 years, the one who betrayed you but still loved after all this time. The longing, the USTs, the hate kisses, the flames gloriously coming back to life. My heart went out to Cal and Eli. They had to sort through a decade of hurts and misunderstandings. Mutual pining, anyone? ♡

    I loved the parts where Eli couldn’t help himself. He just had to kiss Cal even if he wanted to punch him just as badly. Cal loves pushing his buttons and when Eli’s buttons are pushed, that’s when things get seriously explosive.

    Peak Cal moment is him singing Son Of A Preacher Man offkey at the top of his voice just to annoy Eli, instead of enjoying the cozy morning after. Which ended their very brief “truce” and sent them back to square one a.k.a. Eli hating him again.

    Each chapter is marked with a song and opens with a short flashback. I loved how the writing seamlessly take us back to the past and juxtaposed it with the present. We see how Cal’s teen self views the world, perhaps still in a limited, adults are enemies way most people his age do. He created a boogeyman in Eli’s father, who was a huge presence not only in their lives but the entire town as well.

    His adult self was very much surprised with how much his small town has changed. And how it still the same podunk town he left behind. I enjoyed the parts where he realized things were different now, more accepting and open. Bullies are now friends and the pastor is only a human who loves his son.

    The book also excelled in bringing bull-riding to life. This is a world I know nothing about, but here, it was portrayed, not so much in vivid detail, but with well-written glimpses that easily captured the rodeo world. It brought us the heat and adrenaline, the heart stopping triumphs and the sometimes fatal losses, and the indomitable spirits of men who risk life and limb for 8 precious seconds.

    Down Low is simply wonderful. It is one man’s eye-opening homecoming, a reliving of unforgettable memories, a comfort for years of hurts, a fixing of mistakes, and a tumultuous reunion of childhood sweethearts. It takes us through a whole gamut of emotions, sad, happy, painful, sweet and more. Yeah, quite a ride this one!

    Rating:
    4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away

    Soundtrack: Son of a Preacher Man
    Artist: The John Does
    Album:


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    AUDIO REVIEW: Natural Twenty by Charlie Novak

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    Roll For Love: Natural Twenty – Charlie Novak

    Plants are easier than people—that’s Leo’s rule of thumb. After all, nobody really wants a man who looks like he belongs in a biker gang but would rather spend his time buried in books and flowers. It’s just easier to be single. Until he meets the owner of the new book shop.

    Jacob Morris knows two things: he’s really attracted to the man who runs the local flower shop, and he doesn’t date. Not when he’s still healing from a bad breakup, has a new business to run, game nights to organise, workshops to host, and a website to build.

    When friendship blooms into something more, Leo and Jay must decide whether to roll the dice and take a chance on love or keep forging ahead on their quests alone. Will their roll yield a one or a perfect, natural twenty?

    Natural Twenty is an 80,000-word contemporary MM romance featuring Dungeons & Dragons, secret flower language bouquets, a spoilt Staffy (or two), and a best friend who is basically a gothic prince. It is book one in the Roll for Love series and can be read as a standalone.


    When I picked this up, I had no idea what “natural twenty” meant. I learned later this refers to the roll of the twenty-sided dice in Dungeons and Dragons. If I understood it correctly, getting a natural twenty means maximum success.

    Natural Twenty is the first book of the geek-tastic series, Roll for Love. This is an insta-attraction, slow-burn, friends-to-lovers story of Leo, florist and Jay, bookseller. It’s packed full of all things geeky, from scifi and fantasy books, Dungeons and Dragons, cosplayers, steampunk conventions, superhero shows and pop culture references.

    Leo looks like a lion but is actually a kitten. His intimidating, taciturn exterior puts off a lot of people. They failed to notice underneath it all, there was a sweet, gentle giant who gives his heart too easily. His sole companion in life is his dog, Angie.

    Jay is an adorkable transplant from London, who left his old life after his ex cheated on him. He came to live with his friend, Edward, to mend his broken heart. Starting fresh, he bravely opened his own bookstore in Yorkshire. On his opening day, he received a welcome bouquet from Leo, who had decided to check out the new establishment in the neighborhood.

    The two struck a friendship but couldn’t deny the attraction between them. Friendship was slowly turning into an enjoyable, comfortable relationship when angst, internal conflict and struggling business got the better of Jay. He decided to put a temporary halt on things because he couldn’t handle all the pressure.

    This should actually be a more straightforward book. I couldn’t help but feel it should have been a lot shorter, perhaps a novella. Things could have been resolved a lot quicker.

    It showed Leo and Jay going about their day to day. This is fine, even enjoyable sometimes but there was too much internal dialogue. Mostly, I struggled with keeping my attention focused on the story. I felt the dreaded saggy middle. Happily, Joel Leslie’s fabulously on-point narration kept me going.

    And while I liked reading about the how-tos of running a small business, especially a bookstore, going through some business minutiae did feel a bit tedious at some points. Ditto with the Dungeons and Dragons part. Having never played the game, I couldn’t fully appreciate all the references.

    On the upside, the book had a lot of wonderful side-characters. Chief of whom is Edward, cosplayer and gothic prince, who basically stole the show. All the time I was reading, I kept thinking how much fun his book would be.

    My favorite part here was floriography, the language of flowers. Each chapter is marked with a flower and their meanings. I have zero interest in flowers but the way Leo put together his bouquets for Jay, carefully picking each flower and leaving pieces of his heart in each blossom, that was absolutely beautiful! Especially coming from a guy who struggles with words. It was such a deeply romantic and meaningful gesture. It made me appreciate flowers a little better.

    Things started picking up when Jay’s bookstore became viral. From then on, the story moved faster and I was able to enjoy it more. Despite my complaints about the draggy bits of the book, I still love the way Leo and Jay were brought together, first as friends, then as lovers and then later when they were reunited. It was a sweet, fluffy journey made more charming with some floral magic.

    All in all, Natural Twenty might not have rolled out maximum success but it’s still a good roll. Read if you love adorkable elven bards who sing Spice Girls offkey, gothic princes who drink in tea sets that match their wardrobe and most especially, gentle giants who speak in flowers.

    P.S.

    Thank you to Gay Romance Reviews and Audible UK for giving me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

    Rating:
    3 Stars – not exactly setting my world on fire but I liked it

    Soundtrack: Bloom
    Artist: RKCB
    Album:


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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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    DOUBLE OR NOTHING | DOUBLING DOWN

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    SERIES REVIEW: Aster Valley Books 0.5 & 1 by Lucy Lennox

    Aster Valley is a contemporary romance series by Lucy Lennox. I think she’s one of the best writers of the genre. As I mentioned before, it’s hard for me to get into a pure contemporary romance book. But here, the author swept me along with her wonderfully written stories.

    The titular Aster Valley is a small town somewhere in the Colorado Mountains if I am not mistaken (sorry, I forgot the location). It’s formerly a ski resort town with it’s own unique charm that drew the characters in. The books are about the couples who eventually found a home here.


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    Aster Valley: Winter Waites – Lucy Lennox

    Gentry Kane is a rockstar I’ve been half in love with my whole life. And now he’s my patient.

    When Winter Waites knocks on the door to the snowy cabin where his next physical therapy patient awaits him, he has no idea his dream celebrity is on the other side. Gentry Kane is everything Winter has always fantasized about. But it was only a fantasy. What happens when Winter is faced with the flesh and blood man who wants more than physical therapy? Can one night in a cozy cabin lead to more? And how will that affect Winter’s growing career in the tiny, charming town of Aster Valley?


    Winter Waites is the prequel to the series. This is the story of how the famous rock star Gentry Kane found the love of his life among multitudes of fans in the middle of a concert.

    Occupational therapist Winter Waites has been a fan since the days Gentry Kane was singing in college campuses. To suddenly discover that your patient is not only your dream rock star but that dream rock star has been looking for you all this time, well, that’s mind blowing to say the least. It’s a highly improbable but very romantic premise. Don’t we all wish it would happened to us? Teen me would have been over the moon had Billie Joe Armstrong knew I existed.

    The story is very sweet and light on the angst. I loved how the author ramped up that awkward, tension-filled first meeting between them. I felt that scene! It’s easy to see how, beyond the physical attraction, Gentry would fall in love with the gentle, caring soul that is Winter. I didn’t even mind the insta-ness of it all. It was kismet.

    The only thing here was that Gentry’s hand was injured, which was why he needed a therapist in the first place. Winter was telling him he needed to keep in a brace. Then they had sex without putting Gentry’s hand back in the brace. All the while, I’m like, dude, your hand! Your hand!

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

    Soundtrack: I Will Wait
    Artist: Mumford & Sons
    Album: Babel


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    Aster Valley: Right As Raine – Lucy Lennox

    Tiller:

    As the first openly gay professional football player, I can’t afford to make any mistakes, on or off the field. And the absolute biggest mistake I could make right now would be to fall for Mikey Vining, my best friend, employee and, more importantly, Coach’s baby boy. I might fantasize about Mikey at night–every night-but actually touching him would be a serious personal foul.

    And falling for him? That’s completely out of bounds.

    Mikey:

    I’ve learned my lesson about falling for one of my dad’s players. They’re a bunch of spoiled jocks with more muscles than brains. I’ve spent years learning to keep my eyes, and my hands, to myself. But resisting the temptation becomes nearly impossible when Tiller Raine and I end up together in a small cabin in a remote Colorado town.

    Suddenly, there’s not much to do but look at each other. And talk. And hopefully, hopefully touch.

    But what happens when our stay in Aster Valley is over and it’s time to return to the real world? Will Coach blow the whistle on our relationship? Or will Tiller admit there might actually be something he loves more than football after all?


    Right As Raine is the nerd/jock, forbidden romance of football star, Tiller Raine, and Michael Vining, his personal assistant/chef/coach’s son/long-time crush he couldn’t live without.

    Tiller is an award-winning, highest paid pro athlete. Also a lovable gentle giant who adores his coach’s son. I loved how he calls him “my Mikey“.

    Mikey is feisty, talented, ambitious and hardworking. He’s been crushing on his boss for the longest time but keeps his hands off. I really liked Mikey for keeping it professional. His family is shit. They say they accept him as gay but then go out of their way to exclude him.

    As with the prequel, the story is very sweet, and fluffy. It is mostly light until the later part. I loved the slow-burn-ness of it all. The book really took time to build up the simmering feelings between Tiller and Raine, resulting in delicious anticipation and fabulous chemistry. Their shift from friends to lovers felt so natural and very easy yet very satisfying.

    There’s a bit of angst involved with Mikey having to deal with his homophobic dad. The coach is a manipulative bastard, a homophobe who pretends to be accepting but underhandedly sabotages Mikey and discourages Tiller from openly pursuing relationships.

    The scene where Mikey confronts the bastard was difficult for me to go through. Not because it was badly written but because of all the negative emotions the evil dad generated. I nearly dropped the book so again, good job to the author for the effective writing.

    The rest of the Aster Valley boys were awesome. Gentry and Winter make appearances as well as Mikey’s best friend, Sam, and the cute geek, Truman, who will be paired with him in the next book.

    All in all, Right As Raine is a heartfelt, comfort read. The family drama might pull you out of it but stick around because it is ultimately, a very rewarding book.

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

    Soundtrack: All I Wanna Do
    Artist: Piotr & Sans Kar
    Album:

    P.S.

    Aster Valley books can be read as standalones but I recommend reading them in order to get the best experience. The boys will make it worth your while.


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    RIGHT AS RAINE

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