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    REVIEW: Hex and the City by Nazri Noor

    Stolen Hearts: Hex and the City by Nazri Noor

    Leon Alcantara is a real son of a witch. The last in a proud line of witches, he’s come to test his small magic in the big city. Stealing enchanted artifacts pays the rent, but the competition is fierce. And handsome. And great at magic, too. But Maximilian Drake and his dark, brooding glances are the least of Leon’s problems. A chain of anomalies surges through the city, strange distortions in reality that threaten both Dos Lunas and its people. Suspected by the arcane authorities, Leon is forced to work with his nemesis to clear his name. But Max is so secretive over his shrouded past. Can he even be trusted? Leon must decide before the anomalies destroy the city — and his entire life.

    Nazri Noor quickly became a go-to author since A Touch of Fever back in 2021. Many of his books are urban fantasies set in an alt-universe centered around a magical Black Market that moves all over the globe and beyond.

    His latest series, Stolen Hearts, is another urban fantasy. I haven’t heard mention of the infamous Black Market, but I’m pretty sure it’s set in the same universe.

    Book 1, Hex in the City, stars the feisty Leonardo Alcantara, green carded into the US from the Philippines by his mother. Leon comes from a long line of bruha or witches, the magic passed on from women to women. He is the first witch boy and, so far, the last Alcantara.

    A winning combination of spells, street smarts and naivety, Leon currently ekes out a living as a finder, moving from city to city where there is work. In one heist, he butt heads with another finder, the tall, dark, and broody Maximillian Drake, who is also after the magical object he’s tasked to find.

    Dos Lunas is a city with a magical underground and many magical law-enforcement agencies, one of which are the Masks. As you can guess, their agents wear certain types of masks depending on their rank, and I immediately wanted to be one when I grow up. Another group that fascinated me are the Spiders, information mongers who dole out jobs to finders like Leon and Max.

    One very intriguing aspect are the old magical families like the Brilliantes, powerful and influential enough to be given a lot of leeway by the Masks. The characters have different types of magic as well. Leon’s traditional magic can amplify what is already there. Later, he got a power boost courtesy of certain ancient entities. Max’s magic has something to do with crystals. His friend Tina is very handy with her machete, while the Jade Spider lives and breathes secrets.

    I find many of the author’s works fun but wordy. Here, his writing hit the sweet spot between the sass, the info-dump, and the rest of the elements. This is a fast-paced plot with fast-talking characters that skillfully balanced the romantic development, Leon’s Filipino background, the snarky dialogues, world-building, the mystery, and the high-octane, anime-style fight scenes that I am crazy about!

    The only reason I didn’t give this a 5-star rating is that the romance on the generic side. I’ve already seen this style of rivals to lovers done in the author’s other books. Apart from that, Stolen Hearts offers a rich magical world I’d loved to get lost in, characters I’d love to hang out with, and more quests and adventures to conquer.

    So yeah, Hex and the City would make a great onscreen series. And we all know fictional gay couples have the best and most devoted fandom. We already have angels and demons, princes and first sons, and of course, pirates. About time we have mages and witch boys, so please, if Netflix or anyone could turn this or any of the author’s books into an anime or live-action drama, it would be simply brilliant!

    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

    Soundtrack: Diamond
    Artist: Angelina Jordan
    Album: Old Enough

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    REVIEW: Any Old Diamonds by K.J. Charles

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    Lilywhite Boys: Any Old Diamonds – K.J. Charles

    Lord Alexander Pyne-ffoulkes is the younger son of the Duke of Ilvar, with a bitter grudge against his wealthy father. The Duke intends to give his Duchess a priceless diamond parure on their wedding anniversary—so Alec hires a pair of jewel thieves to steal it.

    The Duke’s remote castle is a difficult target, and Alec needs a way to get the thieves in. Soldier-turned-criminal Jerry Crozier has the answer: he’ll pose as a Society gentleman and become Alec’s new best friend.

    But Jerry is a dangerous man: controlling, remote, and devastating. He effortlessly teases out the lonely young nobleman’s most secret desires, and soon he’s got Alec in his bed—and the palm of his hand.

    Or maybe not. Because as the plot thickens, betrayals, secrets, new loves, and old evils come to light. Now the jewel thief and the aristocrat must keep up the pretence, find their way through a maze of privilege and deceit, and confront the truth of what’s between them…all without getting caught.

    This is the story of the wicked thief who taught a lord to lie and how the lord undone him with his truths.

    Jerry Crozier was all that was advertised and more. Controlling, remote and devastating. He is unapologetic about what or who he is. The man was as compelling as the sweet whisperings of Lucifer. Alec stood no chance of resisting.

    Lord Alexander ‘Alec’ Pyne-ffoulkes has the kind of innocence that begs to be ruined. And he was very much willing to be so. His submission belies an inner strength capable of tapping into his baser nature and going against everything he loves just to get revenge. All without losing said innocence at all.

    Alec gave Jerry complete control to do whatever he pleases. Jerry is a man who LOVES control. In all fairness, the whole thing was beautifully done. I’m just not a fan of BDSM so the plaything aspect wasn’t something I go for in romance stories.

    It started as physical. As the story progressed, we see subtle hints of finer feelings. This was my favorite parts. The gestures were so simple, a tighter grip or a change of breath, and so casually mentioned you’d missed it if you don’t pay attention.

    The story focused more on the relationship between the two main characters. The progression was flawless. Jerry taught Alec how to play the long game. All throughout, we see the master thief in control until… he wasn’t. Because Alec SAW him.

    I see hints of Gabriel ‘Ash’ Ashleigh (Society of Gentlemen) in Alec. Especially in how his naivety could be so effective in making him the best kind of liar. The kind who tells the truth. This particular characteristic was masterfully put to good use all throughout the book.

    The heist plotline, while secondary, was still top notch in its execution. We meet another Lilywhite Boy, Templeton Lane and private detective, Susan Lazarus. Suzy, who we first meet as a child in Sins of the City, is all grown up and ready to kick some ass. She and Temp has some pretty interesting history going on. They have their own book.

    The family drama was as sordid as to be expected. According to the author, this was based on a real life couple. And since the author does not write one-dimensional characters, she even made the stepmother and Alec’s father vile yet sympathetic enough to make Alec think twice about his revenge.

    The big twist! I totally didn’t see it coming. The author really outdid herself with how this particular scene was written. It was a tricky thing making us see a character from another’s perspective while still writing in the first character’s POV. The result? I was as flabbergasted by the whole thing as Jerry and Temp.

    Any Old Diamonds is one of K.J. Charles best written books. The character portraits were some of the best I’ve come across with. It’s very twisty and unpredictable. And so very clever!


    The Lilywhite Boys takes place 20 years after Sins of the Cities. It is not necessary to read the earlier series to enjoy this but why miss out on meeting the deliciously devious Justin Lazarus and his friends? Sins of the Cities review here.
    K.J. Charles books here.

    5 Stars – absolutely perfect

    Soundtrack: The Long Game
    Artist: Johnathan Rice
    Album: The Long Game

  • book,  Uncategorized

    REVIEW: Pros & Cons Of Vengeance by A.E. Wasp

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    Pros & Cons: Pros & Cons Of Vengeance – A.E. Wasp

    *FIVE JOBS. FIVE CHANCES FOR REDEMPTION. One thing’s for sure: these men are no angels.*

    There’s nothing like being blackmailed by a dead man to really bring a group of cons together. And what a group we are: a hacker, a thief, a con artist, a thug, and a Federal agent with an axe to grind. The deal is simple, we do the jobs and Charlie’s lawyer wipes the slate clean for each of us, one at a time.

    Since job number one calls for some muscle, it looks like I’m up first. I’m Steele Alvarez, ex-Special Forces Close Protection Specialist (aka, a bodyguard for some not so nice guys).

    After learning what the job is — taking down a seemingly untouchable senator with a penchant for beating up young male prostitutes — I’m in. No questions. A bullet ought to do the trick.

    Then I met Senator Harlan’s latest victim: Breck Pfeiffer, the gorgeous hooker with a heart of gold and the soul of a fighter. One look at him and I’m gone. That kid laid me out harder than any punch ever did. I’ll do anything to protect Breck, even kill for him. But Breck doesn’t want the senator dead, he wants vengeance.

    If we’re going to find a way bring down the slimebag and get the blackest mark on my record erased, I’m going to need all the help I can get.

    Like it or not, we’re all in this together.

    Pros & Cons is an MM version of Oceans Eleven / Leverage where a group of men with ‘special skills’ were gathered posthumously by the late Charlie Bingham, information broker and con-man extraordinaire. He ‘persuaded’ them into doing certain ‘assignments’.

    It all became clear to me at that moment what Charlie’s ultimate motivation had been. These weren’t personal vendettas or petty crimes he wanted to be solved. He wanted justice, the kind he couldn’t get from inside the system

    The first book, Pros & Cons of Vengeance, did a good job setting up the series and introducing the cast. I might not like George Clooney but I definitely love Charlie’s boys.

    Leonard ‘Leo’ Shook – an FBI agent who’s been on Charlie’s tail for ages. I’m betting good money him and the mysterious ‘interested party’ will be hooking up soonish, maybe 5th book. And I think I know who that ‘interested party’ is.
    Carson Grieves – a man of a thousand faces. The most mysterious person in the group. He’s so mysterious no one even knows his real name, age or accent. He always blends in but in this group of ridiculously good-looking people, he stands out for being plain. My favorite character. Can’t wait for his book.
    Ridge Pfiefer – a thief. Kind of grumpy. The twin I liked better
    Wesley Bond – hacker and master of all things tech. Social engineer. He’s my second fave.
    Castille ‘Steele’ Alvarez – hitman, bodyguard and ex-Army Ranger. Doesn’t get along with Ridge but thinks Breck is adorbs.

    Then we have Charlie’s angels:

    Miranda Bosley – tough lawyer, executor of Charlie’s will and not someone you mess with
    Josie DuPont – international woman of mystery and jill of all trades. Can cook the best Mexican dishes. Teaches a class on underwater demolition. Also, not to be mess with. I think she and Miranda might be occasional bedmates.

    The ex-hookers with a golden heart:

    Breck ‘Brekkie’ Pfiefer – Ridge’s younger twin. Fell into Steele’s lap and was happy to stay there
    Danny Munroe
    – Breck’s friend who was dragged into the group and promptly adopted. He and Wes had that ‘I’m pissed at you because I like you dammit‘ thing going on. I’m going to love their book, I know it.

    Steele takes point in the first assignment. They were to bring down a corrupt evangelical senator who preaches against LGBTQ but hires and abuses rent boys whom he sleeps with and uses to blackmail influential people by secretly recording them while they do the dirty. Two of these boys were Breck and Danny.

    Steele was instantly attracted to Breck the moment he saw him but unfortunately they’re the two people in the group I’m least interested in. I have no complaints about them, I just didn’t really care much so I left them in peace a.k.a tune them out when they weren’t talking about the case.

    The book is written in both MCs’ POV, except for the prologue and epilogue which were in the ‘interested party’s’ and Leo’s perspectives. The premise immediately grabbed my attention with a plotline that was made for movies. A big part of the story was the romance, this is MM afterall, but I did wished there was a little bit more heist in it.

    The job is what I’m all about. Like in most heist novels, careful planning is the key. The fun part was the execution. I was keen on watching their elaborate scheme unfold because it’s going to be very satisfying to witness them destroy the bad guy. They’re pulling out the big guns at the end and boy, did Brekkie had his moment!

    But it was the ensemble cast that really made the book shine. Each character brought something special to the table, both in skills and personalities. I liked how each of them was given ample page-time without them taking over Steele and Breck’s story. I loved the humor, the dialogues and the grudging camaraderie of the group. Like all the best teams, they have that kind of charismatic dynamics that drew you in and kept you in. The kind that makes you go, ‘adopt me please!‘ A.E. Wasp did a fantastic job with these characters.

    Overall, Pros & Cons Of Vengeance was a fun, entertaining ride that succeeded in making me look forward to future capers. Recommended if you like cons, shenanigans and other creative ways of bringing the (other) bad guys down.

    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: Vengeance
    Artist: The Nipple Erectors