West Coast Mobsters: His Lethal Desire – Leighton Greene
There’s nothing more lethal than a hitman in love.
Johnny “Jack” Jacopo was once the Castellani Family’s top hitman, but one terrible mistake saw him kicked back down the ladder. So when the Boss orders him to look into the disappearance of a Hollywood starlet, Jack sees an opportunity to rise back up the Family ranks.
His first move is to question the missing actress’s twin brother. Miller Beaumont is charming, gorgeous, flirty…and he’s the same guy who was hitting on Jack in a bar the night before.
Jack tries to keep things strictly business, but Miller has access to inside information that Jack needs to solve the case. And it’s just too tempting when Miller proposes that they team up to find his sister.
As their search leads them into danger, Jack finds he has more to lose than he ever expected. Someone is coming after Miller, and Jack finds himself torn between duty to his Family and his own foolish heart.
Because despite himself, Jack is making one more mistake, the biggest of them all, the one dumb thing he swore he’d never do.
He’s falling in love.
His Lethal Desire is the first book in the West Coast Mobsters series. Follow the men of the Los Angeles underworld in this page-turning romantic suspense series as they find love, danger and mystery in the most unexpected places.
Each book in West Coast Mobsters tells the love story of a different couple who find their happy ending, as well as a resolution to the mystery they’re investigating, but there are cliffhangers to the wider suspense plot for the series.
I picked this up only because I was intrigued by the 5th Book’s premise about a virgin butler framed for murder. And since I always have the compulsion to read a series in order, I have to start here.
His Lethal Desire, Book 1 of West Coast Mobsters, quickly made me realize it’s more than just a necessary hurdle. It has everything I love about mafia romance!
The thrill of flirting with danger, the possessive smoldering passion, the intriguing mix of dark and good wrapped in a gorgeous bad boy persona. And if we’re lucky, there’d be a lot of bi-lingual sweet nothings and cusses, too.
The story also has a bonus twist that caught my attention immediately. Johnny ‘Jack’ Jacopo, formerly top hitman for the Castellanis, was demoted to foot soldier and bar security. It’s rare for me to encounter a demoted mafioso, usually they don’t even get second chances when they fuck up.
The WCM series is a spin-off of the Morelli Family, and in the last book, a Vegas mob boss put a hit on Jack. Don Ciro Castellani offered protection, so Jack is stuck in LA.
Jack is in the unique position of being very good at what he used to do to just be thrown away. Also, he saved the Don’s son, Sandro’s life in a way that forced him to do something Sandro considers betrayal. The two used to be close friends, but Sandro has reserved the rights to kill Jack. He’s only alive because of the Don.
Now, the Don is giving him a chance for a re-promotion. He’s tasked to find a missing actress, Anais Beaumont, and he’s given a lead, the actress’s twin, Miller. The same person Jack’s been eyeing across the bar for weeks. The person who shamelessly flirted and kissed him the night before.
I’m not too familiar with the technicalities of a story, so I my reviews are just me squee-ing at stuff. But sometimes, I hear people say it’s a character-driven story. Not sure if this book is like that, but I could definitely say Jack is the main driving force for me here.
He’s your typical mafioso, a bit jaded and too used to violence. But he’s internal dialogues are compelling, showing his vulnerable side, his fears, and sometimes, when he dare hope, his plans to get away from LA.
And my favorite part about Jack is his loyalty. Even Ciro Castellani recognizes that Jack’s brand of loyalty is not something that could ever be bought by money. That’s why he wants him to guard Sandro, but sure as hell, the two will end up killing each other.
The best part is when that loyalty shifted to Miller.
We Jacopos only ever got one shot at love, my father had once told me. You won’t give a damn about anyone until suddenly you do, and that’ll be it. Forever. Even if they leave, even if they die. You’ll still love them, and you can try with someone else, even make it work for a while, but it won’t be the same.
One shot at love, Johnny. It’s just the way things are for us Jacopos.
Miller and his sister were child actors. But unlike his twin, who still a star, Miller is mostly forgotten, and he spends his time partying hard to fill the emptiness. He doesn’t do substance abuse, thankfully. Secretly, he’s a talented painter, but years of being belittled did a number on his confidence.
I didn’t warm up to Miller immediately, but the more I knew about him, the more I learn that he has a big heart. He puts the people he loves first, and it is unfortunate that those people are narcissists. Miller doesn’t deserved how his family treated him.
From their meet-cute at the bar to the very last page, Jack and Miller’s chemistry is DELICIOUS! Their romance developed organically, not too insta and not too slow-burn. And it’s just FANTASTIC all the way through! Jack’s world is Miller, and our boy Miller, with his selfless heart, deserves all the love in the world.
Aside from the romance, the rest of the book was a solid read. The mystery was fascinating. There were a lot of clues and personalities involved, and I didn’t put it together until the part Miller saw the USB.
The action and suspense were engaging, and I loved how the resolution left room for more Jack and Miller in the succeeding book. The only thing I didn’t like was how the thing with Annie was left open.
There were plenty of secondary characters whom I’m super excited to read about, like Sandro and Teddy, Sandro’s half-brother and resident psycho Julian, as well as Miller’s friend Nate and Jack’s friend Freddy.
And I really appreciated Leighton Greene‘s writing style. Aside from her well-executed storytelling, she writes in short paragraphs. I hope other writers would keep this in mind because most people read ebooks nowadays. Short paragraphs are easy on weak eyes if you’re reading from a screen.
His Lethal Desire is a story of dysfunctional families, shifting loyalties and plans gone awry, where a demoted hitman falls in love with a washed up Hollywood star, and the powers that be lay claim to their bodies, their souls, and their lives.
Overall, squee-tastic like butterflies in the stomach, lethal like arrow straight to the heart.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
I wanted this so badly in audiobook. This deserves a Michael Ferraiuolo performance!
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Fire and Valor: The Prince’s Dragon – W.M. Fawkes & Sam Burns
The last place Lord Tristram Radcliffe ever expected to find himself was right hand to the Llangardian throne. His parentage should have seen him banished, but he managed to keep his draconic secret. Now, King Reynold is dead. Long live King Roland.
The boy ascends to rule a kingdom in chaos, and Tristram must undo the damage of the last king’s reign to save his people from lean winter and wolves in the palace itself. Reynold’s former shadow, Bet Kyston, is determined to root out King Roland’s enemies, but his version of help may cause as much harm as good.
There remains a traitor near to the throne, and when the king falls mysteriously ill, Tristram’s strongest ally is forced to leave court. As his enemies move closer, the strength of Tristram’s regency is more precarious than ever. Abandoned and friendless, Tristram must sacrifice everything to protect his homeland or risk not only Roland’s life, but his own.
The story picks up immediately after the events of The King’s Dragon. The new king, Roland, was poisoned and now lies in his sick bed. The Regent, Lord Tristram Radcliff, with help from his lover, Bet Kyston, does his best to balance court duties and going toe to toe with traitorous Cavendish relatives hungry for power.
Meanwhile dragons are attacking dragons and holding captives. Among those captured was the young dragon Hafgan. The summer clan suffered severe losses, and are moving south to somewhere near the court. (I have no idea how to spell the names of places since I’m audiobooking this so I will not attempt)
The book is still in multiple POVs, with new ones introduced. Now that I am familiar with the Fire and Valor world, the shift in POVs didn’t hinder anymore. I was able to focus more on the narrative and enjoy the tale as it unfolds.
This time, the different POVs worked better at giving us the bigger picture and a more detailed look at the world, especially outside the court, connecting different faraway characters.
Lord Regent Tristam Radcliff – not interested in the throne, never will be now that he knows first hand what a headache it is to run a kingdom. But as the only person King Roland trusts to be his proxy, Tris takes his duties to heart and will defend king and Llandgard, and a certain half-elf, to death. His big scene in the ending was BAM!
Bet Kyston – ninja elf, a.k.a. assassin, a.k.a. king’s shadow, became my favorite character here. I felt sorry for how he was abandoned by his mother. I loved how his character grew. Bet has no problems sticking a knife to whoever hurt the boy king, legalities be damned. That he loves sticking things in the lord regent, is an ongoing bet in knightly circles.
Rhiannon – currently healing in the special pool in the monastery. The fierce dragon is surprisingly shy, or is it vain, to show herself to Sidone while she’s recuperating. Struck a bargain with Princess Gillian while there. I’d love to see Rhiannon in battle once more.
Sir Sidone – this knight stuck with her lady through thick and thin. Not much going on with her in this installment, but I’d love to see her in action in the future astride her dragon because that would be so cool!
Bowen – a grizzled old stone dragon forced to sell his fellow dragons to slavery. That his hoard is pretty delicate flowers might be a sign that his tough exterior hides a marshmallow heart.
Hafgan – our sweet sunshine dragon who might just win the heart of an old warrior like Bowen.
Lady Elinor – Tris’s beloved mom is in for a surprise reunion with a long lost love, who is a mild-mannered bookworm, or should I say, bookdragon.
Princess Gillian – learned more magic and found romance outside the castle walls. I’m counting on her for spectacular displays of magic. It’s unfortunate that the plot is about lost magic so there’s barely any spells here. Gillian on the tower protecting the city is the most we got.
Maddox – was pretty surly at first, but this summer dragon turned out to be a great love interest for the princess. His internal thoughts, a.k.a. grudges with Tristram, whom he has yet to meet, were amusing. Turns out they got along splendidly.
Dragon – a cinnamon roll dragon in captivity. Rescue this sweet little soul now!
This series gets better with each installment. The pace here is faster, the tension is tighter, and overall, more dynamic as new secrets are revealed and various groups are in motion, either as enemies, fugitives or rescuers.
Woven through the already potent mix of court politics and dragon action are the romantic threads that give us more things to get hooked on. And there’s something for everyone. The main couple are Tristram and Bet, and their romance is giving me LIFE! Rhiannon and Sidone took theirs to another level. Gillian and Maddox are fantastic together after their initial antagonistic encounter.
Overall, Fire and Valor hit its stride with The Prince’s Dragon. It had me in its grip from beginning to end. The intrigue, the romance, the adventure, this is more than just slow burn magic. This is a thrilling dragon ride!
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
Fire and Valor should be read in order. Witness royals come and go, and dragons in and out of scales in The King’s Dragon.
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Fire and Valor: The King’s Dragon – W.M Fawkes & Sam Burns
Lord Tristram Radcliffe has a secret—he is the only dragon at the king’s court in Llangard. It’s a secret he’s kept from the knights he’s fought beside, from the ladies who bat their lashes at him, and from his closest companion, Prince Reynold. If it were to get out, he’d be banished to the Mawrcraig Mountains along with the rest of his kind, but the kingdom of men is the only one he’s ever known, and his heart lives in the stone halls of those who’d count him an enemy.
When the old king dies and Prince Reynold takes the throne, two visitors from the north throw Tristram into the middle of the ancient conflict between dragons and men. They put him on a collision course with the king’s shadow, Bet Kyston, a dangerous assassin who may want him dead or may want more of Tristram that he’d ever thought to give.
With the eyes of dragons upon him and a threat from the north creeping toward the home he loves, Tristram must weigh his allegiances before his dual legacies tear him apart.
As a lazy reader, high fantasy books are challenging for me, particularly the world-building. I am not keen on reading info-dumps about grimy taverns, the default euro-centric medieval settings, nor am I impressed with knights in their clunky tin can armors. The magic, though, is always fun!
So it was no surprise that I struggled with The King’s Dragon, Book 1 of Fire and Valor by writer duo W.M. Fawkes and Sam Burns. But then, the book slowly but surely entangled me in its gripping plot, awesome characters, and daring rescue missions.
The plot is a very intriguing blend of kingdom politics, lost magic, family drama, and, of course, dragons! A dead king just buried, a new king celebrating in a kingdom once filled with magic, but now, the only royal magician and sister to the king, Princess Gillian, can barely perform a spell.
It’s a particularly precarious situation for the kingdom of Llandgard, whose enemies from the north might be making a move. These enemies are stopped only by the dragons in the mountains, the dragons who once enslaved humans, the dragons the king and his people reviled and banished through magic. Unknown to them, dragons are currently in their midst during the celebrations.
The story is paced too slow for me. It is in multiple POVs, a whomping seven on my count. It took a while for me to get the lay of the land. I got whiplash, shifting from one POV to another, never knowing which character you’ll get next. This further slowed the narrative for me.
So it’s lucky that the authors picked the perfect narrators for their series because they kept me engaged. Greg Boudreaux is always a pleasure to listen to, and new-to-me narrator Lessa Lamb played the enchanting females perfectly with her Disney princess voices.
Another plus, is that the world-building didn’t drag or info-dumped too much. It is a medieval Euro-centric setting with none of the religious fanaticism, with equal opportunities for anyone, and lots of queer characters.
Halfway, I became fully invested. Everything slowly came together. The pace finally picked up as the thrilling buildup set several things in motion all at once, leading to the explosive climatic scene. I loved how the ending resolved things satisfyingly while also dropping me off a cliff so suddenly I was left with my mouth hanging open.
This series has an ensemble cast and they each stand out.
Lord Tristram Radcliffe – knight and cousin to King Reynold. Rumored to be a bastard, secretly a half-dragon, hoards pointy objects, notices the king’s shadow, Bet, far too much for his liking. Righteous, loyal and conscientious especially about his duty to Llandgard. Basically Captain America, knight version.
Bennet Kyston – an open secret known as the king’s shadow a.k.a. assassin a.k.a. doer of dirty deeds. Agile, deadly, and loyal to King Reynold who gave him a home. Secretly crushes hard on Tristram but knowing he’s too low-born for such noble knight, could only look and not touch.
King Reynold – the new king celebrating the start of his reign with a party and tournament. Seemed okay at the start but later was acting a little too paranoid and cruel for anyone’s liking. A hint was thrown casually as to why this is that will be picked up in later installments.
Sir Sidonie – a high-ranking knight in the king’s guard, she was from a peasant family but rose in ranks through skills and hard-work. A friend to Tristram and just as loyal to the king, she couldn’t help noticing the new Lady Rhiannon who’s lavishing her considerable charms on the king
Lady Rhiannon – a lady on a mission and a dragon with a plan. She came to court with her foster son, Hafgan, to change the king’s mind about dragons. She might flirt with the king, but a certain female knight is more to her taste.
Princess Gillian – sister to the new king and the only Cavendish left with magic. She has no interest in the throne and Reynold crowned gave her freedom. She is Tris’s friend and one of the few who knew his secret. The tumultuous court events led her outside the castle walls and I am excited to see where her adventures take her.
Hafgan – a young dragon whose entire clan was wiped out. Rhiannon found his egg and claimed him as her own ever since. Didn’t play too much role in the story but I expect bigger things from him in the following books.
Prince Roland – the nine year old heir to the king who barely bothers with his son. Frequently overlooked and underestimated, Roland plays his cards close to his sleeves and has some surprises of his own that might shock his father. He considers Tristram and Bet as the only people in court who acknowledges him as a person.
I always say this, it’s a testament to the authors’ characterization that I could name their side characters. The main couple here is Tristram and Bet. These two played their intense enemies-to-lovers game so deliciously! Usually, they would be all I care about, but I remember the supporting cast quite well.
Rhiannon and Sidonie’s romance blossomed parallel to the main romance. These two were a breath of fresh air in the dank atmosphere of royal madness and paranoia. They have the most bombastic escape scene! Hoping for more of these badass women in the next books.
The King’s Dragon deftly wove multiple POVs, twist and turns, secrets and lies, magic and dragons, knights and assassins, and a royal family fighting for their legacy and future. It’s slow-burn magic from two skilled authors. Before I knew it, I went from meh to HELL YEAH!
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Fool’s Gold – Ki Brightly & M.D. Gregory
The Bad Boy from the Trailer Park
There are certain unwritten rules in the Lakeview Trailer Park, and number five is clear—No Gay Stuff.
Ethan “Shep” Shepherd has grown up hiding his true self so he doesn’t get kicked out of the only home he knows, but that doesn’t mean he can’t dream of a better life with the beautiful man who lives across the river. As a criminal, Ethan knows Jonas is too good for him, but when another one of the trailer park guys decides to attack Jonas, Ethan steps in and changes the course of their lives.
The Good Boy from the Religious Family
Jonas Nomikos is trying to survive his parents and their conservative views until he gets to college, where he can finally be himself. It isn’t an easy task to pretend to be the son they want, and when his best friend tells the truth to Jonas’s parents, he’s sure his life is over. Until Ethan. Ethan gives him hope and makes him smile, and Jonas wants to be with him, even if it means saying goodbye to the only life he knows.
The Road to Being Who They Are
If Ethan and Jonas want to be together, they’ll need to make sacrifices. The journey to happiness is filled with surprises, and Ethan isn’t sure Jonas is ready to accept the reality of his life—which includes motorcycle clubs, breaking the law, and living payday to payday. Jonas might shock him, though.
Fool’s Gold has a theme of overcoming prejudice and contains depictions of homophobia and discrimination, including scenes in a conversion camp. The authors do not condone homophobic behavior or discrimination of any kind.
New Gothenburg is a sprawling New York-based universe created by writer duo Ki Brightly and M.D. Gregory. It spans a multitude of interconnected, though frequently standalone, books and series usually involving motorcycle clubs, mobsters, sex workers, and even lawyers and law enforcement officers.
I have this vague urge to read all of them, but it’s a hit or miss. Many times, I am more enamored with the premise as the actual book left much to be desired. Then, there are times I struck gold.
Fool’s Gold is one of those that panned out. And fabulously at that! This is also a standalone.
It’s a new adult tale of the boy from the wrong side of tracks crushing on the boy on the right side. Ethan ‘Shep’ Shephard is a trailer park bad boy who rescued Jonas Nomikos from a thug. And that was how Ethan finally spent some time with his crush, whom he has been making heart eyes for years from across the river.
Jonas is from an ultra-conservative Methodist family, his father the pastor. A friend outing him to his parents had him sent to a conversion therapy camp. And it sparked a series of events that led him and Ethan to crime, violence and unlikely allies.
First, I really loved the YA-ish vibe of the book. It felt like I was reading a cute manga about high school boys and adorably awkward first love moments. The fluff is tempered by the more somber scenes of homophobic people doling out the don’ts and the cannot’s. Ethan and Jonas’s relationship is forbidden on both sides of the river.
Second, the Good Omens dynamic never fails to make me swoon! Who doesn’t squee at bad boys who hate the world being soft for no one but their angelic boyfriends! Ethan is crazy about his angel and has no qualms giving anyone who hurt his Jonas their just desserts. Well, the bad guy got served his, and I was surprised, Jonas didn’t make much fuss given who it is and how it was given.
Third, the duo’s writing was particularly effective here. Most of their books have BDSM-ish or daddy/boy relationships, and while I loved some of them, the rest are repetitive and cringey. Here, the relationship is between two older teens. The plot moved steadily, and there were no lulls at all. I loved the anticipation whenever Ethan and Jonas are about to meet or when Jonas did something unexpected.
The darker second half was a suspenseful hunt for the missing Jonas, a fateful meeting with the notorious motorcycle club, Kings of Men, and a tender night of firsts. It was action-packed, exhilarating, and sweet, a roller-coaster of feels!
Ethan being uber protective of Jonas and giving the big bad bikers attitude was endearing and amusing the way a puppy might snarl. Thing is, puppies are cute, yet their bite has more rabies. Ethan gathering an army and storming enemy camp was complete badass! Jonas riding in his sidecar is adorbs! This angel is not meant for the bitch seat.
The only reason why this is not a 5-star read is because of one glaring error. There was a scene where Ethan and Jonas were chased by a rival biker, and Jonas dropped his cellphone. It was even mentioned it cracked or broke. Then some time after, they were chased by more bikers, and Jonas was magically trying to call the police using his phone. There were no mentions that he picked up his dropped phone beforehand.
Fool’s Gold is a thrill ride, a swoony romance, and a blushy BL manga. It’s a story of forbidden love and a coming-of-age tale of two teenagers caught in a world of bad bikers and worse pastors. This has some dark moments, so heed the trigger warnings. All in all, genuinely brilliant!
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
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Evolved – N.R. Walker
In 2068, androids are an integrated part of human life. Big Brother no longer just watches from the shadows. It’s in every household.
Lloyd Salter has OCD issues with noise and mess, and he’s uncomfortable with human interaction. When his ex claimed the only thing perfect enough to live up to his standards was an android, Lloyd dismissed it. But two years later, after much self-assessment, he thinks he may have been right.
SATinc is the largest manufacturer of androids in Australia, including the Fully Compatible Units known as an A-Class 10. Their latest design is the Synthetic Human Android UNit, otherwise known as SHAUN.
Shaun is compatible to Lloyd’s every need; the perfect fit on an intellectual and physical basis. But Lloyd soon realises Shaun’s not like other A-Class androids. He learns. He adapts. Sure that SATinc is aware Shaun functions outside of his programmed parameters, Lloyd must find a way to keep Shaun safe.
This is the second time I try reading Evolved. The first time was in 2018, when it was first released. I struggled so much with the book that I DNF’ed. I still have the draft of my initial thoughts on it and already have a song for it. The review was pretty negative, and since I didn’t finish reading, I didn’t post it.
I thought I try my luck again, and this time, I was determined to see it through. I would like to say second time’s the charm, but no. It was still a struggle. Though I could see the good parts, and they made it worth it.
First, the plot is pretty standard for human/android romances.
Philosophy professor and perpetual loner Lloyd Salter purchased a Class A Companion Android, Shaun, from SATInc. Shaun was programmed to be fully compatible with Lloyd’s personality and sexual preferences. Class A Androids are the most human-like of all the android classes, but Lloyd was starting to notice Shaun is evolving far beyond his Class A capabilities.
My first reaction to this is, gay Absolute Boyfriend, anyone? Technosexual romances, or even just the usual sci fi story, almost always feature androids evolving or acting as human-like as possible. My Star Trek crush, Data, being an early example.
I got pretty bored with how most of the plot revolves around Shaun’s androidness. It felt a lot like how older MM romances frequently revolved around the person’s sexuality. Maybe because I’ve seen it done a million times already, I would have preferred Lloyd be a bit cynical rather than being too star-struck by Shaun.
Which brings us to the main character. The story is in Lloyd’s first person POV. This was a tough hurdle for me because I don’t like Lloyd at all. I don’t actively hate him. It’s just if we were boyfriends or roommates, we’ll probably end up killing each other. We’re the same and opposites in all the wrong ways.
Lloyd has OCD and mysophobia. He is socially awkward and has only one friend. I could sympathize as a fellow loner, but I don’t like Lloyd’s sterile version of perfection. I want to introduce him to kintsugi so he could appreciate how flaws can make something perfect in an interesting way. He’d probably hate the discordant beauty of punk while I revel in it.
And just like him, my lack of social skills and the scarcity of people who can tolerate my difficult personality, I wouldn’t be surprise if I settle for an android companion in the future.
However, N.R. Walker is a master of her craft. The storytelling was engaging, the prose written in a way that makes it easy to read, even through some challenging scenes. The sci fi elements were well-conceived, and if Shaun got too technical in his droid-speak, it’s quickly translated into more understandable terminologies.
At the heart of it all is the romance. And this is where the book outdid itself. Even with my dislike of Lloyd and even knowing Shaun is built to be the man of his dreams, the chemistry was still palpable, the romance sweet, and their connection soul-deep.
Shaun was so charming he made Lloyd a hell of a lot more tolerable. I wished really hard that the story is written in his POV. It would be interesting to see Lloyd from a different perspective.
Because say what I will about Lloyd, but the man has the kindest heart. The reason I don’t hate him entirely is because he treats Shaun with the utmost respect. I loved that he acknowledge his personhood because artificial though he is, Shaun can think, reason, learn, joke, and feel.
The plot significantly picked up once Lloyd started worrying about Big Brother, a.k.a. SATinc, watching him. Things became more dynamic, and we see Lloyd’s friend, Jay, playing a key role. I really enjoyed this part because we see Lloyd and Shaun interacting with the outside world, and Shaun was having the time of his life. And charming people because this android is a ray of sunshine!
Evolved is a mixed bag for me. The plot might be factory-settings basic and the MC is an acquired taste, but it is a story powered by a lot of heart. And that’s all that matters!
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
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