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.
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.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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VRC: Vampire Related Crimes: How To Lure A Hunter – Alice Winters
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.
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)
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.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
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