Aster Valley: Hot As Heller – Lucy Lennox
The man asked me to valet his damn car.
Look, I left LA for a reason. I’ve had my fill of big Hollywood stars and their even bigger egos. I want something genuine. Something real. And it doesn’t get any realer than being the new sheriff of Aster Valley, Colorado.
That is, until entitled Finn Heller appears on the scene, handing me the keys to his convertible like I’m his personal servant.
The former child star and wannabe action hero is the hottest thing I’ve ever seen. He’s also a snarky party animal with legions of adoring fans and attitude for days.
Or so I thought.
The longer the film crew stays in town, the more I begin to wonder if Finn is hiding his true self, one that’s as beautiful inside as out. He’s a star alright, but the kind that shines bright enough to light up the night sky… the kind I want to make a wish on.
A wish Finn will find a way to make things work with me, even if it means his next role is my very own leading man.
Aster Valley works its magic one more time in this delightful love story between a Shakespeare-quoting action star and the good sheriff of the town.
The sleepy mountain valley in Colorado is buzzing with movie stars. A film crew is in town shooting a big budget action flick starring infamous former child actor, Finn Heller. Sheriff Declan Stone has had enough of the crowds and the inflated egos and is counting the days when all these brouhaha is over. Unfortunately, fate keeps throwing trouble and a certain former child actor his way.
Finn has the disastrous reputation typical of child actors who grew up in front of the camera. But you got to hand it to our boy, he was trying really, really hard to rise above that. It was a huge uphill battle, with everyone, including his own mother, expecting him to be nothing more than a money-making machine. I was rooting hard for this sweet, passionate, hardworking man who just wants to be taken seriously.
I appreciated Dec being a steady, grounding presence for Finn. The good sheriff and the actor might have started off the wrong foot, even butted heads a few more times, but Dec always made sure the younger man was safe and protected.
I loved the way the author bought these two characters together. The more time they spent together, the more they realized there’s so much more to the other person. Their chemistry was just fabulous! And I adore the way Dec treats Finn like the treasure he is.
The most vivid moment for me was when Finn was at the park teaching some teenagers about Shakespeare. Dec saw him all glowing and happy under the trees and sunshine and he couldn’t resist coming over to talk. I could almost see that as a breathtaking scene in a rom-com movie, with the camera showing a dreamy Finn through Dec’s bedazzled eyes.
I enjoyed all the Aster Valley books, but I enjoyed Hot As Heller more because it was an easier read. Previously, I had complained that the antagonists were much too vile for me. So much so that they took me out of the story. Here, the author toned down the negativity, going for more tell rather than show. I really appreciated it because while we still have major conflicts and bad guys to keep us on our toes, they were deployed at a tolerable level.
All the couples from the previous books made their appearances. I always perk up whenever one of them pops up. This series has some of the most lovable supporting cast. They made me want to move to Aster Valley. The town itself is almost another character.
Hot As Heller is a heartwarming story about taking charge of one’s life and following your dreams. It continues the Aster Valley tradition of charming unwitting celebrities into finding love and staying for good. It is quite an enticing place. So I say, drop by any time. You’ll feel right at home too!
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Let Aster Valley charm you by reading the books in order. Check out my reviews below:
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I’m a huge fan of Kim Fielding‘s fantastic paranormal series, Bureau. I have been following this since Corruption, Tenrael and Grimes’s story. This series has become better and better with each installment.
This is a review of Chained and Convicted, volume 2 of the series. Both novellas featured creatures shackled and chained, one through captivity and the other through culpability.
Bureau: Chained – Kim Fielding
An agent for the Bureau of Trans-Species Affairs? That’s the best job in the world. And it’s enough for Terry Brandt, who doesn’t need personal relationships complicating his life. His newest assignment puts him undercover, investigating a Hollywood agent who may have some evil tricks up his sleeve.
Edge is not the man he appears to be. Although he’s a member of the Hollywood agent’s security staff, his true situation is darker and deeper than that. Ordered to seduce the new prospect, Edge finds himself caught in conflicting loyalties.
Haunted by their pasts and tied up in secrets, neither Terry nor Edge can afford to allow passion to interfere with duty. And with danger dogging them, it’s impossible to envision a future together.
Chained is a shifter story that made me want to hug my dogs.
Terry Brandt is a music-loving Bureau agent assigned to investigate Hollywood’s most powerful agent, Whitaker, rumored to be offering fame and fortune in exchange for something sinister. He goes undercover as a wannabe actor. He was asked to move in to the agent’s mansion as part of the test to see if he has what it takes. There he meets Edge, the man assigned to guard him.
Edge and his two brothers are dog shifters bought by Whitaker, their boss, when they were pups. They served as security in the mansion. They used to be four but their other brother was put down when he refused to behave.
My heart went out to Edge. He and his brothers were treated like dogs. They live in a kennel modified to accommodate their human form. But he’s the one their boss treated the worst. Not only is he beaten at the slightest mistakes, he is forced to seduce the potential actors as part of their owner’s tactics to sink his hooks deeper into them. He was ordered to do just that to Terry.
All the dog shifter brothers were obedient but Edge is different. His boss loved pointing out that he is weak. Compared to his brothers, Edge wanted more but knew he couldn’t. He’s too well-trained for that. He’s loyal to his owner even if Terry is making him feel unexpected things. The most heartbreaking scene was when Terry urged him to run away after all the abuse. He refused. “I’m a good dog!” (╥﹏╥)
The story is set in 1989. There are mentions of HIV. I enjoyed all the musical name-dropping of Terry’s favorite 80s bands. He introduced Edge to the joys of music and I adored Terry for that. He faced monsters but still loves his job. He also kept his sunny, talkative disposition. He’s a good foil to Edge’s strong, silent type.
I loved how Terry treated Edge kindly right from the start. Edge immediately noticed he was different from the other wannabes. Terry didn’t treat him and his brothers in dog or human form as part of the furniture. He acknowledged their presence and talked to them even if he still didn’t know what they actually were.
The book succeeded in portraying the seediness of the unseen side of Hollywood. We get dual POVs. What I like about the writing is that even if I know what’s going on from Edge’s perspective, I could still feel a sense of the unknown as experienced through Terry’s POV where he knew something is wrong but couldn’t quite put his finger on it. This was what made the twists effective.
Terry’s investigation came to a head when he was offered the job in exchange for the most valuable thing he owns. The climax was a suspenseful chaos of fangs, blood and bullets. I gave a little cheer when the brothers finally took action. There’s a lovely ending and epilogue where Townsend, the Bureau chief explained the magical mechanics of things to the guys. I’m happy that Terry was able to keep doing what he loved. Now he can do that with Edge.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
Bureau: Convicted – Kim Fielding
Vietnam veteran Kurt Powell’s addiction almost cost him everything, but a job as federal agent with the Bureau of Trans-Species Affairs helped him find sobriety and purpose. Now he tracks down dangerous paranormal creatures as well as humans who abuse their magical powers in illegal ways.
Sent from Belfast to the United States as a boy, Desmond Hughes later fell into a disastrous relationship that led to horrific murders. He’s spent seventeen years in a bleak prison with few comforts and no hope of release.
A new mission throws Kurt and Des together in a desperate attempt to prevent disaster. Sometimes what’s long been lost can still be found, but the road to redemption is never easy—and a mutual attraction may not ease the way.
Convicted is a moving journey towards redemption, forgiveness and freedom.
Desmond Hughes has been incarcerated in the Bureau prison for 17 years. He, along with his lover, Larry Crane, was responsible for the deaths of many people. Crane masterminded the crime, using magical boxes as source of power to wreck destruction. Crane is dead and these deadly boxes are now missing.
Kurt Powell is the agent assigned to find the boxes. He interviews Des who gives him all the places he and Crane stayed. Later on, he takes Des with him to find the boxes with the condition that Des returns to prison after they do. Their quest took them all over the American heartland moving towards Florida, stopping at the places Des had named.
The book is set in the 1993. The sense of time was not as strongly delivered as the other stories. There are nods to the time period, mentions of HIV and racism especially towards Kurt who had a mixed parentage.
Unlike the other Bureau novellas, Convicted has human + human pairing. I liked this just a tad less than Chained but not because it’s not as well written. This is due more to my disinterest towards stories involving road trips and looking for lost things. So I did feel the drag just a bit but the story picked up when they found one of the boxes.
There is less focus on the paranormal here. It’s very character-driven. Both men are burdened with guilt. They have the deaths of multiple people in their hands. One as a soldier, the other as an accomplice to a psychopath.
Des won me over with his spirit. He’s so lonely he talks to himself but I didn’t sense defeat. It’s more like he’s accepted his fate and tried to make do with what he is given. I also didn’t expect him to be the talkative type. The first parts of the book showed him alone. Then he had his first conversation with Kurt and his bright personality really shone through. As Kurt puts it, he has the voice of a born story teller. He’s a big guy with a gentle and kind soul that Crane took advantage of, using and abusing him as part of his schemes. I think Des truly believed Crane meant to change the world for the better with those boxes.
Kurt had his own share of troubles. He’s a Vietnam veteran who dealt with alcohol addiction. In his low moments, he was recruited by Townsend who believed in his potential. Kurt has a son and is friends with his ex-wife. I really liked that Kurt looked beyond the orange uniform and saw Des for what he truly is. He also made him understand that there is always a choice. And that he could forgive himself and move on.
Towards the end, the paranormal elements come into play in a show of magic and double crossing. Kurt suffers the same equally suspenseful fate as Terry. Townsend once again makes an appearance with his words of wisdom and second chances. Then Des showing up on Kurt’s doorstep all earnest and yearning is beyond endearing. Let’s give the man a hug!
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Bureau has always been a series with a lot of heart. Very much present in the stories are the small unexpected kindnesses that go a long way and reach deep places in the hearts of the tormented. Most of the time, the characters don’t even realize the impact of what they’re doing. Like Kurt offhandedly mentioning he would ask for more books for Des who had to make do with a measly 5-book ration. These touches of humanity are what makes this series.
I enjoyed the references to and cameos of well-loved couples from the other stories. West Coast Bureau chief Townsend is always present in all of them and he’s the biggest mystery of all. According to Edge, he smells human and something else. He often pops up in unexpected places to move things along. And I swear, his secret hobby is matchmaking because he really knows how to pair up these guys.
I highly recommend Chained and Convicted as well as the Bureau series as a whole. This is a series that will make you FEEL for ugly, tormented monsters. And no one does ugly, tormented monsters like Kim Fielding.
Posts on Kim Fieldings works here.
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The Young Americans: Just Like Heaven – T.L. Bradford
Noah Sinclair is best described as an egotistical, pompous, anal retentive, asshat. And those are his better qualities. Lately, Noah has lost touch with his playboy character “Jace” on the show Americana and can’t quite put his finger on why. The studio decides it is time to shake up his character by making him an offer he can’t refuse, literally. They will introduce a new love interest for his character “Jace.” Only this time, there’s a twist.
Josh Hill is up a creek and sinking fast. He’s got no job, no money, no credit and is about to be kicked out of his apartment. Opportunity comes in the form of a job offer from the show Americana. Everything should be perfect; only there is one hitch. He will be the new love interest for Noah Sinclair’s character on the beloved show.
So, opposites are supposed to attract, right? Not so fast. No one said life was that easy. Both actors find themselves in untested waters. Will they be able to play a same-sex couple with no prior experience authentically? Well, they say practice makes perfect.
Carefree, fun-loving Josh and uptight, overbearing Noah, realize they need to make the best of their bad situation and are forced to find common ground. Over time, their roles in each other’s lives become blurred. Is their attraction fake, or is it real? To top it off, Noah has a dark skeleton in his closet that can prevent them from ever moving forward.
Can they get on the same page and save both of their careers and their relationship?
Or will they end up yesterday’s tabloid fodder?
(Just Like Heaven is a full-length, slow-burn love story. It can be read as a standalone. It contains a cast of fully-developed characters that encounter romance, heartache, laughter, and life lessons. The book has darker themes that may act as triggers to some readers. It contains adult language, mature themes, and is best enjoyed by those over the age of 18.)
Just Like Heaven is a case of life imitating soap. It’s just as long, just as melodramatic.
I think the author was trying to cram every popular trope possible. Noah and Josh started out as enemies, then friends then lovers. There was a slow-burn gay for you thrown in with both claiming to be straight. Then coming out issues with Noah refusing to even admit to himself he was gay because he was so traumatized by his abusive father.
Sometime later, we get Josh admitting he had a crush on his football teammate back in high school and revealing he was bisexual. There’s even the big breakup and a second chance romance of sorts.
All of these would have been one hell of an epic saga. However the book had an unfortunate tendency to tell rather than show. There were chunks and chunk of paragraphs of just telling.
The book could benefit from taking out some passages. For instance, there was Noah looking back to the time he was caught kissing a boy. The same scenario was later described in dialogue by the actor to Josh in almost the same way.
I wasn’t particularly drawn to the two MCs. Noah was as difficult as advertised. Josh was the more likable one, the type who’s friends with a person within 5 minutes of meeting them.
Their honeymoon phase was indeed sweet but on the whole they weren’t exactly the healthiest couple out there. There were petty jealousies and possessiveness. They don’t talk properly. They had better relationships with the other people they hooked up with. So their relationship wasn’t something I could root for.
On the upside, the other cast members were great supporting characters. I could see how their real life chemistry would translate well on screen. They were like the millennial version of the Brat Pack.
The Hill family Christmas was the most fun part of the book. Everyone had a blast at their Christmas Olympics. This was where Noah and Josh synced perfectly together. We get a glimpse of what they could be if they were simply regular guys named Noah Sinclair and Joshua Hill instead of Primetime Emmys’ Best Couple.
It wouldn’t be your favorite daytime soap without scandals and messy breakups. The big fight was ugly, the separation painful. But it wasn’t long before they started hooking up with other castmates. At this point, my interest petered out.
Narrator Corey H. Bennson was a major reason why I stuck around for as long as I could. He’s one of those narrators who acts rather than just reads. I really enjoyed his style.
I wish Noah and Josh well. I know they would eventually find their way back to each other. And stay there, hopefully.
Sorry, this was supposed to be posted yesterday but my blog’s I.P. address had some technical issues.
Thank you to Gay Romance Reviews and Audible UK for giving me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
2.5 Stars – far from hate but not quite a like