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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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    KINDLE

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    RIGHT AS RAINE

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    SERIES REVIEW: The Elite by Brooke Blaine & Ella Frank

    The Elite: Danger Zone – Brooke Blaine & Ella Frank

    The Elite: Need For Speed – Brooke Blaine & Ella Frank

    The Elite: Classified – Brooke Blaine & Ella Frank

    They train to serve their country.
    They strive to be the best.
    But only a select few can be …
    The Elite

    * * *

    MATTEO MORGAN
    CALL SIGN: SOLO


    Reckless, arrogant, and bold, Solo is as known in the U.S. Navy for his bad-boy reputation as he is for his skills as a fighter pilot. It’s a surprise to his peers, then, when he’s chosen to train and compete at the most prestigious naval aviation academy in the world.

    MISSION RULES:
    1. Kick everyone’s ass.
    2. Do whatever it takes to win.
    3. Do your best to distract the competition.
    4. Especially when that competition is a gorgeous blue-eyed perfectionist who makes your blood run hot.

    * * *

    GRANT HUGHES
    CALL SIGN: PANTHER


    Disciplined, smart, and confident, Panther can’t afford not to play by the rules. As the son of a top Navy commander, all eyes are on him, and being anything less than number one is unacceptable.

    MISSION RULES:
    1. Keep it safe in the air.
    2. Prove you’re more than Commander Hughes’s son.
    3. No distractions. Stay focused.
    4. Don’t fall for your competition—especially not the rebellious heartbreaker with lips made for sinning.

    In the heat of the hot California sun, tempers flare and desires ignite as Solo and Panther try to resist their attraction while fighting to be number one.
    With passion this intense, the question remains:
    Who’s gonna come out on top?


    I was in grade school the last time I watched Top Gun so I never realized how gay it was until I saw the gifs. So gay that even if I couldn’t stand Tom Cruise, I had to ship Maverick and Iceman.

    When this series flew in my radar, halle-fucking-luyah!

    The Elite are the best of the best fighter pilots gunning for the number 1 spot. They compete for several grueling weeks. Top of the leaderboard are the reckless daredevil Matteo Morgan aka Solo, and by-the-book golden boy Grant Hughes aka Panther.

    To their fellow pilots, these two very different men were bitter rivals. Unbeknownst to all, Solo was doing his damnedest to get into Panther’s pants.

    Solo locked on to Panther the moment the other man walked into a bar right before their training began. Both were unaware of who the other was. The attraction was mutual but the closeted Panther turned him down. And continued to turn him down as their training progressed. Solo couldn’t be deterred.

    This is the part where Solo was annoying. I almost dropped the book because Panther had said no several times. Even if somebody was obviously interested, it’s still not cool to harass them when they already said no. I even expected him to get punched through his teeth. But the thing with Solo, he could be the most annoying bastard ever existed, you’ll still feel drawn to him (as Panther no doubt felt). And he was funny.

    Panther, on the other hand, exudes a tall, dark, commanding presence much like his namesake. He’s keeping cool under pressure but a certain relentless, out and proud pilot is making him to break all the rules.

    Panther and Solo, they are fire and kerosene. It’s like the authors took those palpable USTs from the movie and ignited them, bringing to life all those subtexts Hollywood was too cowardly to show explicitly. The tension continued to be intense from start to finish, fueled by the combustible energy between the MCs.

    There are three books in the series. It’s really one long story story chopped into cliffhangers. This style is a hit or miss in my experience. There’s the issue of lack of substance for the installments. Happily, each book in The Elite held solid weight, chronicling the evolution of Panther and Solo’s relationship and highlighting several conflicts and milestones.

    The Elite might primarily be romance but it definitely didn’t slack off on the action. It gave us all the breathtaking jet plane maneuvers, all the cocky attitudes, the smack talk, the constant one-up-manship, the homoerotic volleyball games, the sun, the beach, the adrenaline in land and air. Everything we loved about the movie but way, way better because these fighter pilots ride each other’s tail.

    This Top-Gun homage is a dream come true. Thank you Brooke Blaine & Ella Frank for making it happened.

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

    Soundtrack: Dangerous Animals
    Artist: Arctic Monkeys
    Album: Humbug

    Soundtrack: High Speed
    Artist: Coldplay
    Album: Parachutes

    Soundtrack: Cool With You
    Artist: Hers
    Album: Songs of Hers


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    DANGER ZONE | NEED FOR SPEED | CLASSIFIED

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    SERIES REVIEW: Handled Books 2 & 3 by Romilly King

    I practically inhaled these last two Handled books in one sitting because they’re that good!

    The entire series blew me away with Gray and Nathan’s deliciously deviant tale of death and desire that is surprisingly sweet as it is dark. Romilly King created two very memorable characters that are up there in my most favorite couples ever list.

    Handled is a world where capital punishment is meted out to serial killers by highly trained killers called Handlers. These executions are supervised by Witnesses. Each Handler is assigned a Witness.

    Gray, best handler in town, was assigned Nathan, rookie witness, who somehow forged a more than professional connection to the notoriously very difficult handler.


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    Handled: Cleansed – Romilly King

    Sometimes you have to go back in order to go forward – Gray is going back to handle the man who saw him as an angel, and unleashed the demon in him.

    I am a Handler; I deal with serial killers, legally, ruthlessly, and in the presence of my Witness, because justice must be seen to be done.

    Handling is an intimate procedure. I only perform for an audience of one; for my Witness, with his hot eyes and his innocent heart, and the pure white soul that I dirtied up so beautifully.

    Now someone else is watching, the man who refined the monster in me. I can’t allow that to continue, particularly as he threatens the Witness who has caused the frozen lump in my chest that I laughingly refer to as a heart, to sporadically beat.

    This isn’t about retribution; this is cleaning up the past so I have a chance at a future.

    Cleansed is the second book in the Handled trilogy, it is a dark gay romance dealing with adult themes and contains graphic scenes that may upset some readers. Please heed the trigger warnings inside.


    Cleansed picks up some months after the first book. We see Gray and Nathan’s relationship continue to evolve and grow stronger. For one brief moment, our favorite psycho lets himself be a vulnerable relaxed tiger around Nathan and learns what being cared for without any ulterior motives feels like.

    I am so happy we finally get Gray’s backstory. A crazed evangelist played a pivotal role, christening the kidnapped child Gray an angel sent to him. The man killed and tortured people in front of the child, waiting to see if the angel will appear and save the sinners.

    Years after his release, Gray learned this evangelist has kept tabs on him and was angry about his relationship with Nathan. Gray being Gray, he provoked his stalker and inadvertently put Nathan in danger. Then he went after the killer with typical Gray panache.

    I really like that the story went straight to the point with the identity of the killer. Gray has the resources and is smart enough to figure things out quickly. I also appreciated that he remained essentially himself even after the memories came rushing back. He might have a vulnerable moment or two but his claws are still sharp as ever.

    But also, soft thoughts!!!!!

    Oh, the soft thoughts are everything! ♥(ˆ⌣ˆԅ)

    This is an aptly named book. Gray proved how deadly angelic he can be, burned the bridges to his past and went on to live halcyon days of sun, the occasional Nathan and OMG! cartwheels!

    Rating:
    5 Stars – absolutely perfect

    Soundtrack: Animal Impulses
    Artist: IAMX
    Album: The Unified Field


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    Handled: Polished – Romilly King

    How deadly do you have to be to kill a killer?

    Handlers are hard to kill, and to be fair most of us like the challenge when people try, but now someone is killing off handlers in bloody and complex ways.

    Not my problem.

    Not anymore.

    I got out, I got free, and I don’t want to go back.

    But someone is offering a favour if I handle this, a valuable one, and it could make all the difference to how this story ends.

    Handlers don’t expect a happy ever after; most of us don’t even know what one looks like. I do, my happy ever after is blue eyed and frequently filthy and deliciously mouthy and he bends the way I want him to bend. And I could have that. All I have to do is take on one more handling, and ensure we both survive it.

    The odds are not with me this time though.

    I really should have kept on killing, I’m out of practice.

    Polished is the third book in the Handled trilogy, it is a dark gay romance dealing with adult themes and contains graphic scenes that may upset some readers. Please heed the trigger warnings inside.


    The cartwheeling had to come to an end eventually…

    Polished is where things come full circle as a retired Gray was forced to handle another case and Nathan is again assigned as his witness. Handlers and Witnesses are murdered one by one. Gray needed to get his monster mojo back in order to solve the case faster. To do so, he pushes poor Nathan away because his little witness makes him more human. They kept hitting dead ends. The situation became even more desperate when Nathan disappeared.

    Nathan’s baby handler brother, Indigo and Indi’s special friend Trans, demanded they help. Now these two are adorable psychos! Can we have their book please?

    Nathan has learned his way around Gray, keeping faith and patiently waiting, waiting, waiting…Meanwhile, Gray, struggles to put a name to this thing between him and Nathan. It took two teen psychos to help him ease into it. And solve the case while they’re at it.

    Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed with how Gray’s redemption came about. Is it wrong for me to wish he was really the psychopath everyone thought he was? Can we just let psychos be psychos and still be capable of love? If Indi can, Gray can too, I believe.

    In this trilogy, I was all about Gray. Nathan is a great character through and through. I loved him from the start but the dark and dangerous tend to hog the spotlight more. However, Nathan’s dogged determination, his innate goodness, even his naivety and most especially his selfless love for these unlovable monsters sneaked up on me much like he sneaked his way into Gray’s heart. Slowly but surely. His complete trust in Gray was such a beautiful gift. After all that he has done, I looked at him with wonder too!

    This finale revealed a more intimate picture of the relationships between Handlers and Witnesses. It is a complicated relationship, a symbiosis of two people working together in super intense, highly volatile situations. Professional can quickly turn to personal, a natural progression of sorts, and I would love to see more of these dynamics explored. I really hope we get a spinoff series.

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

    Soundtrack: My Witness
    Artist: The Irrepressibles
    Album: Mirror Mirror

    P.S.

    Handled should be experienced as a binge read. You won’t have it any other way.

    Witness the beginnings of Gray and Nathan’s explosive partnership in Handled book 1. Review here.


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    HANDLED | CLEANSED

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    AUDIO REVIEW: Shot In The Dark by Riley Long

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    Shot In The Dark – Riley Long

    If you win the bet, we’ll let you disappear. If you lose, you’ll be trapped on stage forever.

    Charlie
    I’m definitely straight, but when rock god Eli Steele offers me the opportunity of a lifetime in exchange for being his fake husband for a year, I can’t say no. That’s how I find myself sharing a bed – and more than a few kisses – with the lead singer of Blood Money. All I have to do is stay focused on my work and pretend to be in love with him. Easy, right?

    Eli
    I took a stupid fucking bet and now I have to convince Charlie to fall for me without using mind control. He’s straight, but the bigger problem is that he’s human and I’m not. Once he finds out I’m really a vampire, will he be able to look past my fangs and see what’s in my heart?


    Shot In The Dark grabbed my attention because of several things. We have a rock star who’s also a vampire who wrangled a fake husband in order to win a bet. If he wins, he gets to hang up his guitar and fade into oblivion a.k.a. retire. What he didn’t count on was falling in love with his fake husband who is straight.

    The rock star in question is Eli, 290 years old, the youngest in a band of vampires known as Blood Money. He’s tired of his current life and wants to leave it all behind. The band made a deal with him that they would end their life as a band if he falls in the love with the first person who walks in the bar.

    Eli is my favorite vampire here. He’s got that intense vampire charisma down pat. He’s also gentle, sweet, caring, and generous. He closed his heart, determined not to fall in love again, after his human lover was killed by a coven of vampires many, many years ago. That’s why the band came up with the bet.

    The other members were Drew, Rudy and Zach. The one who stood out the most was Drew, mostly for being an ass. He was right about a lot of things but did he have to be so goddamn obnoxious about it?

    Charlie was the lucky man who came in at the right place, at the right time. He’s an aspiring filmmaker who wanted to create a documentary about Blood Money. Meeting the great Eli Steele, he couldn’t help but feel things even if he was as straight as they come. And to his amazement, the rock star offered to let him secretly document the notoriously private band in exchange for pretending to be in love and becoming his husband. They had to convince the band their relationship was real.

    At this point, I was left wondering, how come nobody questioned that Eli was suddenly married despite knowing Charlie for only a couple of days? I would assume Drew was sharp enough to pick up on that suspicious timing.

    That little niggle aside, Eli and Charlie went about this fake husband thing in the most spectacular way. Right off the bat, the chemistry between the MCs was palpable and gave the story sparkle and zing. The way the romance was pulled off, in that delicious journey from uh-oh there’s only one bed to I can’t he’s straight to so very gay for you right now, was the best thing about the book.

    And alongside of the romance, the friendship that blossomed between Eli and Charlie was a beautiful thing too. It highlighted how good they are for each other. Charlie is lovely! I loved his open-minded approach to their relationship and how he just naturally fell into place in Eli’s life.

    I also liked many of the concepts presented in the story. However, they were as not fully explored as I would have liked. The world building was minimal, just enough to give paranormal color. We get only a small glimpse of the larger vampire world but that is already at the latter part. The secret documentary could have been an interesting issue, especially with vampire identities needed to be kept on the down low but that went nowhere. I also wished we get a more fleshed out backstory for Eli and his friends. Majority of the book was spent with the band on tour but I didn’t get a strong grasp of the other personalities apart from Eli, Charlie and Drew.

    Too bad we only hear about Eli’s fierce fighting skills after Charlie was captured by the bad vampires. That would have been one heck of a climactic scene had it been shown. Instead we get a ridiculous separation period that was totally unnecessary. Although, I get that the book was going for conflict but it could have been done differently.

    The audiobook is narrated by Andrew Morrison. He is a new-to-me narrator. He brought Eli, Charlie and their friends to life with distinct personalities, recognizable voices and accents. Although, there were a couple of dialogues where the accents bled a bit into another character, specifically Eli’s British accent and Charlie’s American accent. Nonetheless, I greatly enjoyed his performance. I was able to listen to the story in one sitting because he made it flow so easily.

    Shot In The Dark is a sweet, low-angst novella, focusing primarily on the romance with the paranormal elements mostly low key. If vampire-flavored fake husbands, gay for you tropes tick your boxes too, this one is definitely worth a shot.

    P.S.

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

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: One Shot In The Darkness
    Artist: Joshua Hyslop
    Album: One Shot In The Darkness


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    SHOT IN THE DARK

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    REVIEW: My Whole World by Davidson King

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    Joker’s Sin: My Whole World – Davidson King

    Atlas Durand’s whole world is built from the spoils of his past. Joker’s Sin is the most popular gay club in all of Haven Hart. Many clubs have come and gone, none able to compete with Atlas and his enigmatic power over his patrons. He would do anything to keep it thriving and anyone who stands in his way will be met with serious regrets.

    Toby St. Claire hates working at Vick’s Tricks and longs for his nights off so he can go to Joker’s Sin. Like everyone who steps foot into Atlas’s club, he’s taken by the owner himself and the magical pulse that owns him when he’s there. Joker’s Sin is Toby’s escape from his life and Atlas is his dream come true.

    When Toby’s boss realizes he can use Toby to help take down Joker’s Sin and make Vick’s Tricks the club to beat in Haven Hart, it turns everything upside down. Lies, deceit, and corruption threaten to tear Atlas and Toby apart. Is their love strong enough to survive it all or will they become victims of mayhem?


    I became curious about Davidson King’s Haven Hart universe after I listened to her interview in the Big Gay Fiction Podcast. I’ve seen her books around but was hesitant to start on her main Haven Hart series because there are a lot of books released.

    Joker’s Sin is the spin-off series that can be read as standalone. There are going to be only 4 installments so the odds of finishing the entire thing is high. Each major player in the Joker’s Sin club will have their own books. Three book are out so far.

    The series opens with My Whole World, the story of club owner, Atlas Durand. He is an uber-charismatic showman, loved by all who frequents his club. He runs a tight ship and puts an even tighter lock around his heart due to a tragic past that explains why his club is named that way. I pictured him as the magnificent Lenny Kravitz.

    His three closest friends work in the club. Ledger is DJ Edge. Max is in charge of the bar. Zero is head of security. Together, they make the club the hottest place to be in Haven Hart. I have no favorite character among them yet but they are interesting enough for me to want to get to know them better.

    The love interest here is Toby St. Claire. Toby is a club regular who had a hopeless crush on Atlas. His ultimate dream is to be noticed by the great man. Toby is sweet. Sadly, that seems to be all he is. Among the important characters, he was the one I least connected to. I agreed with one GR reviewer who did not like his character’s narration. His voice was overacted by the narrator in the audiobook. Toby’s exaggerated reactions were more annoying than amusing. As a result, I wasn’t feeling the romance.

    I’d love for Atlas to find a new love after what he had been through but I just didn’t feel his connection to Toby was that strong. I see it more of his protective instincts reacting to a sweet, gorgeous young man in need of help. The way their romance unfolded came across to me like we were told rather than shown. Although, there were scenes, like that lovely dance, that showed them forming connections. This issue is a ME thing because many people enjoyed their love story.

    One thing I liked about MM romances is that there is this nice tradition where the writers give the lead female characters little happy endings of their own. I’m giving this a mention because that mini arc about Tobi’s twin sister, Poppy, and hacker/bodyguard, Desi, piqued my interest more than the main couple.

    Haven Hart is home to many crime families. Toby works in the rival bar, Vick’s Tricks, owned by one of the minor crooks, Vic Kelly. When his abusive boss learned that he won a date with Atlas and was even offered a job at his club, he tasked Toby to gather intel on Joker’s Sin. If he fails, Poppy would pay the price. This put Toby in a difficult situation.

    I wasn’t particularly pleased with how he handled it. It’s understandable that he’s scared for his sister but I’m not a fan of the lies. Altas gave him several chances to come clean. The big man made it clear he was willing to help whatever the trouble was but Toby kept prevaricating.

    What kept me reading was Joker’s Sin, both the club and the person. I liked how they came alive. I enjoyed getting a glimpse of the inner workings of a club. Even though I don’t go clubbing at all, I love the vibe of clubs. It’s that palpable energy generated whenever there’s a crowd enjoying great music. I can see why people keep coming back to Atlas’ place. I’d love to be there myself.

    Joker the person was hell of a lot compelling. I wanted to know more about him. His history with Atlas was an entire book in itself. I was actually rooting hard for him and Atlas even though I knew how it played out. I wished this was their happy ending.

    While I wasn’t a fan of Altas and Toby’s romance, it still felt organic to the entire story. It had a pretty solid plot that moved things quickly so I wasn’t bored. There were a lot of things happening that kept my attention. I liked how they resolved the Vic Kelly situation because that’s where Wong, the Chinese mob boss, came in. His appearance was short but he made an impression. I’m keen to read a book about him.

    My Whole World was an effective series opener. My first visit to Haven Hart was a mixed bag but I’m already invested in this world. I liked how it connects to the bigger Haven Hart universe, enticing me to explore the other books. The author did an outstanding job integrating various elements from the main series and presenting them from new perspectives. Long-time readers would enjoy the easter eggs scattered about.

    This is a must-read if you are a fan. If you’re new to the author or a first-time visitor to this colorful town, Joker’s Sin is a good place to start.

    P.S.

    You can listen to Davidson King’s interview here.

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: Dance With Me
    Artist: Alphaville
    Album: Afternoons In Utopia


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    Kindle
    Audiobook

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    MY WHOLE WORLD

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    REVIEW: Godfather Wars by Brittany Cournoyer

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    Godfather Wars – Brittany Cournoyer

    Dolan versus Everett. Snarky meets stoic.

    Dolan Masters loathes many things: root canals, splinters in his fingers, and people putting toilet paper on the roll wrong—loose end over the top, please. But the one thing he hates more than anything else is Everett freaking Henson.

    Everett Henson spends more time with animals than people, his best friend Eli being the exception. The downside of that friendship means crossing paths with Dolan Masters; the man who rubs Everett wrong in every way possible.

    But a baby changes everything.

    With both men believing they deserve the honor of being the godfather to their best friends’ baby, the only way to settle things is through a competition. Will there be bloodshed, or will these two realize the truth staring them in the face?

    May the best godfather win.

    Godfather Wars is a stand-alone MM romantic comedy, filled with funny mishaps, snarky banter, and colorful language.


    I have only read one other Brittany Cournoyer book and that is the dark stalker story, Captivated. Godfather Wars is her more effervescent offering. It grabbed my attention me because of the cute premise. Which is two guys duking it out to become the godfather of their bestfriends’ first baby.

    I love enemies-to-lovers stories, most especially when the MCs hated each other with a passion. I wouldn’t say Dolan and Everett hated each other with a passion but there’s enough animosity for them to be considered enemies. We later discovered this was due to a miscommunication between the four friends that happened a couple of years ago. The two then went about snarling and snarking at each other whenever they meet.

    To decide who deserves the title of godfather, soon-to-be-parents Tasha and Eli, concocted a series of tests for the two contenders. This was one the best parts of the story. Expect hilarious epic fails, gross chocolate/peanut combinations and killer geese. Competition was fierce. The two men fought hard. They were neck to neck. The clincher is the toughest task of all. Who will come out on top?

    For me, it’s the dogs.

    Delilah is Everett’s dog. She has eyes that stares right into your soul. Lucky found Dolan when the stray pooch injured his hind leg. The two furballs bonded right away. They had front row seats to the two dorks and truth that is staring their humans in the face. If dogs could roll they eyes, they would be rolling them out of their sockets.

    I liked the MCs’ voices and how they were distinct from each other. Dolan had a more serious, level-headed personality while Everett’s thoughts run to the more dramatic and hyperbolic.

    The contest was a brilliant ploy to get the two to see past whatever it is that kept them apart. After the initial hostilities, Dolan and Everett soon discovered how easy it is to talk to one another. The transition from enemies/rivals to lovers happened naturally. I liked the pacing a lot, being a fan of slow burn.

    While the romance was cute and all, I don’t sense that strong a connection between Dolan and Everett. I appreciated the plot veered away from the cliches, like the big fights and the grand gestures, focusing instead on smaller, more intimate moments like bonding over their dogs and splinter removals. However, the whole thing lacked depth somewhat which was unfortunate because the story had all the right ingredients.

    Overall, Godfather Wars is a low-angst, low-steam novel with almost no conflict. It’s a happy book about expectant parents, ridiculous feuds, judgmental dogs, missed encounters and a second chance of sorts. Recommended if you like your MM romance sweet and light with a chick-lit vibe.

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: Haven’t Had Enough
    Artist: Marianas Trench
    Album: Ever After


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  • book,  Uncategorized

    SERIES REVIEW: Hot Shots Books 2 & 3 by Annabeth Albert

    I was very eager to delve into these two book of the Hotshots series mostly because of the elite firefighter theme. I have not read many of those yet and this was my first introduction to smoke jumpers.

    The first installment Burn Zone was an enjoyable series opener. The next two books feature other smoke jumpers working in the same base as Linc and Jacob. The books can be read as standalones.


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    Hotshots: High Heat – Annabeth Albert

    Annabeth Albert’s Hotshots series continues—the emotions and intensity of Chicago Fire with the raw, natural elements of Man vs. Wild .

    Smoke jumping is Garrick Nelson’s life. Nothing, not severe injuries nor the brutal physical therapy that follows, is going to stop him from getting back with his crew. But when a lost dog shows up on his front porch, he can’t turn her away, and he can’t take care of her on his own. Thankfully, help comes in the form of his new sexy, dog-loving neighbor. As they work together, trying to re-home their little princess, Garrick can’t resist his growing attraction for the other man, even though he knows this guy isn’t the staying type.

    Rain Fisher doesn’t take anything too seriously. He dances through life, one adventure at a time, never settling in one place for too long. When his hot, conveniently buff, neighbor shows up on his doorstep, dog in tow, Rain’s determined to not just save the adorable puppy, but her reluctant owner as well. He never expects their flirtation might tempt him into stay put once and for all…

    Danger lurks everywhere for Central Oregon’s fire crews, but the biggest risk of all might be losing their hearts. Don’t miss the Hotshots series from Annabeth Albert: Burn Zone, High Heat, and Feel the Fire.


    High Heat is Garrick and Rain’s story. Garrick is an injured smoke jumper undergoing physical therapy. He met the carefree, twenty-something Rain when he was asking his neighbor’s help in dealing with a wounded lost dog who strayed in his yard.

    This is an opposites attract, age-gap story about healing. Garrick was not only injured physically, he also had issues getting it up. Garrick found himself drawn to his younger neighbor. Rain gradually became an indispensable part of Garrick’s life along with the dog, now named Cookie. He helped him with Cookie, as well as with Garrick’s sexual healing.

    Thing is, I know their connection was there. Just that, I wasn’t connecting with the characters. I don’t feel invested in what happened to them.

    I was more interested in the job aspect. Here specifically, because Garrick was being offered a position as dispatcher while he was recovering. I liked that we will see firefighting from a different point of view but it’s taking too long to get to those parts. There’s just not enough of the smoke jumping to keep me glued.

    Sadly, DNF’ed.

    Rating:
    2 Stars – it’s a struggle to finish the damn book

    Soundtrack: (Love Is Like A) Heat Wave
    Artist: The Who
    Album: My Generation


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    Hotshots: Feel The Fire – Annabeth Albert

    The third installment of Annabeth Albert’s Hotshots series—the emotions and intensity of Chicago Fire with the raw, natural elements of Man vs. Wild .

    When their career paths bring two high school sweethearts together again, the forest isn’t the only thing ablaze…

    Fire behavior specialist Luis Riviera goes where his job takes him. But when he’s assigned to an arson investigation in Central Oregon—the place he left his broken heart twenty years ago—he’s afraid of being burned all over again.

    Tucker Ryland had planned to join his first love, Luis, in LA after high school graduation, but life got in the way. Now a fire management expert and a divorced father of teen twins, Tucker’s thrown for a loop when he finds himself working side by side with his Luis, now all grown up and more intriguing than ever.

    Though consumed by a grueling fire season and family responsibilities, the two men discover their bond has never truly broken. Tentative kisses turn to passionate nights. But smoking sheets aside, old hurts and new truths stand in the way of this time being the start of forever.

    Danger lurks everywhere for Central Oregon’s fire crews, but the biggest risk of all might be losing their hearts. Don’t miss the Hotshots series from Annabeth Albert: High Heat, Burn Zone and Feel the Fire. (less)


    Thought I would feel better with High Heat. This one’s a childhood friends-to-lovers, second chance romance, something I always enjoyed.

    Tucker and Luis were best friends from their grade school days up until high school when they started discovering they both like boys. Specifically, each other. Luis wanted to come out but Tucker had more conservative parents who he knew would not take it well. Luis’s family moved to California when they were seventeen. The two boys exchanged promises that Tucker would follow later on. That was the last they saw each other.

    Their reunion decades later was all sorts of awkward. There were the whys that needed to be hashed out, sparks of attraction that threatened to ignite once again. Not to mention, how to explain to Tucker’s family.

    There’s great chemistry between Luis and Tucker. Their shared history lent their current attraction extra weight both in the bad and good sense. There’s the baggage to deal with but there’s also a deep connection they can only find with each other. This is especially important because Tucker is demisexual.

    There are a lot of promising things here. Also, a gray/ace character is right up my alley. They weren’t enough to keep me hanging though. As the story progressed, I found myself less and less engaged with the story. The going felt slow. For a book about fires, the delivery wasn’t generating enough sparks with me until it got to the point where it left me cold.

    Comforting myself with the thought that Tucker and Luis get their HEA, eventually. Too bad I have no patience to stick around and see it happened.

    Rating:
    2.5 Stars – far from hate but not quite a like

    Soundtrack: Fire And The Thud
    Artist: Arctic Monkeys
    Album: Humbug

    P.S.

    I’m sorry that not feeling things is the theme of today’s reviews. Doubly sad because I had such high hopes for these two blazing books. I’m not writing off Annabeth Albert yet. I heard good things about her other books so I’m definitely giving those a shot.

    On to better things now.

    3.5 -star review of Burn Zone here.

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  • book,  Uncategorized

    REVIEW: Treasure Trail by Morgan Brice

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    Treasure Trail – Morgan Brice

    Erik Mitchell traveled the world uncovering art fraud and relic theft, which pitted him against spoiled billionaires, unscrupulous collectors, mobsters, and cartels. He worked with law enforcement across the U.S. and Europe, but then a sting goes wrong, Erik ends up injured and returns to find his partner cheating. He decides to stop globetrotting and buy an antique shop in scenic Cape May, NJ, rebuild his life, and nurse his broken heart.

    Undercover Newark cop Ben Nolan went down in a hail of bullets when a bust went sideways, after a tip-off from a traitor inside the department. When he recovers, he spends a couple of years as a private investigator, only to tire of seeing the worst of human nature. So when his aunt offers him the chance to take over her rental real estate business in Cape May, it seems too good to be true. Now if he could just believe he could ever be lucky again in love.

    Sparks fly when Erik and Ben meet. But when a cursed hotel’s long-ago scandals resurface, the two men are pulled into a web of lies, danger, and deception that will test their bond—and might make them Cape May’s newest ghosts!

    Treasure Trail contains sexually explicit material intended for adults 18 and over. This is book #1 in the Treasure Trail series.


    Treasure Trail is off to a great start!

    This new paranormal series by Morgan Brice is part of her inter-connected world of supernaturals. It’s something I’ve always liked about her work.

    The story starts with Erik Mitchell just moving in to Cape May, NJ and setting up Trinkets, the antique shop that came along with the house he bought. He also just started on his blog, Treasure Trail, to promote his merchandise.

    Erik had traipsed all over the world as part of his work as consultant with the FBI. It’s a dangerous job which had him crossing paths with people who had no qualms with deadly force. On one of his missions, he was shot. He decided to live a quieter life in a town he often visited in childhood.

    Cape May is a charming seaside town. Unlike in most stories, the paranormal elements were dealt with quite openly. They even say it’s rare to find a person who has not seen a ghost. There are psychics, a coven of witches, cursed antiques and a very cursed hotel that was torn down 20 years ago.

    This hotel plays a central role in the story, a villain of sorts that has caused the deaths and misfortunes of several owners and hotel residents. It has been owned by mobsters, corrupt televangelists and shady new age gurus, all of whom died violent deaths. Even after it was demolished, its evil presence is still strongly felt. It is part of the town’s history and many memorabilia were collected by various interested parties.

    The mystery involved some of those memorabilia. A box containing assortments of ephemera from the hotel was sold to Erik. It was a veritable Pandora’s box, containing objects related to famous deaths. Not long after, somebody tried to break in his shop, tried to shoot him and attempted to run him over by a van.

    The why was easy to guess, the who was what they needed to find out. While the bad guy was somewhat obvious, I still enjoyed how the various elements tied in together. It’s a book where you savor the process of getting to the answer, more than the answer itself.

    There’s seems to be a red string of fate that runs throughout, fate being the main theme. Everything fell into place for Erik. He saw the house and Trinkets online the moment it was put up on sale. The ad even seemed tailor-made for him.

    Then he met a very attractive guy he connected with right away while he was waiting at the bar for an online date which turned out to be an epic fail. And what are the chances that said attractive guy would knock on his door the next day?

    Ben Nolan was a cop, turned private investigator turned real estate manager. His aunt passed him their rental business. Ben came to Trinkets to have an antique dealer assessed an object he found hidden in one of the houses he manages.

    Erik and Ben had a lot of similarities. They were men who could handle themselves in a fight. Erik has a PhD and rocks the well-read, well-traveled, professor look but he had martial arts training and license to carry. Ben is all bad boy ex-cop with ink but is really nice. Both of them had dealt with traumatic experiences that made them change careers. Both were not close to their families. They came to Cape May for a fresh start.

    The romance between the two was as insta as they come. They already had the L-word percolating in their minds within one day of being together. I’m not a fan of this fast a pace but the way they synced together that quick was in keeping with the hand of destiny thing the story had going.

    It also headed down the miscommunication route especially with the trust issues but happily avoided needless conflict. I really liked how the author set-up my expectations for that awful scenario then deftly turned it into a reasonable plan of action. Shout out to Erik’s cool neighbor, Susan Hendricks, who talked some sense into the guys.

    The world-building was a very enjoyable experience as always. Being part of the Morgan Brice/Gail Z. Martin shared world, various characters from other series popped up, including psychic Simon Kincaide and vampire Soren. This is a nice set-up because it opens the series to many possible story lines. We could expect everything from ghosts, witches, demons and fae.

    There were no big reveal shockers. Cape May residents were a liberal-minded bunch. People were used to the spooky. More often than not it was a case of Erik being reluctant to reveal his supernatural experiences only to have the other person be easily accepting of the fact. And share similar experiences.

    The best thing of all is there is a vast improvement in the writing with new narrator, John Solo, breathing new life into it. While I mostly enjoyed most of the author’s works and Kale Williams’s narration, I do find a certain blandness in them which was highlighted by Williams’s sometimes too calm cadence. Solo’s delivery made the prose’s energy come through.

    Also, there were no TSTL moments here. They contacted the police. They did not make any reckless attempts at heroics. And yet the story succeeded in having a chilling, suspenseful climax that managed to make both heroes shine.

    Treasure Trail opens this new series in the best way possible. It treaded a familiar path but went in directions that were not exactly new but tended to get bypassed in favor of creating conflicting and excitement. I am eager to see where the author will take this. I say it’s definitely worth the follow.

    P.S.

    Posts on Morgan Brice books here.

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

    Soundtrack: Ghost of a Chance
    Artist: Rush
    Album: Roll the Bones


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  • book,  Uncategorized

    REVIEW: Nailed by K.M. Neuhold

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    Four Bears Construction: Nailed – K.M. Neuhold

    My new neighbor is a total tool.

    He hated me from the second he laid eyes on me, and I don’t have the first clue why… But, if he wants to hate me, I’m happy to give him a few reasons: mowing the lawn at dawn on the weekend, leaving garbage cans in front of his driveway, renting a petting zoo for my backyard…making a list of ways to drive him crazy is half the fun.

    He deserves it with the way he’s driving me crazy right back without even trying— walking around without a shirt on, sweaty rippling muscles on full display, well-worn denim jeans perfectly molded to his…well, you get the idea.

    My point is, if he wants a war, I’ll give him one.

    ***Nailed is an enemies to lovers, neighbors who can’t stand each other, omg the anger banging, drool worthy, low angst story, which happens to be the second in my Four Bears Construction series. It CAN be read as a stand alone. There are NO shifters in this series, only the OTHER kind of bears.


    Nailed is the second book of Four Bears Construction, a contemporary series that grabbed me from the get go and had no plans of letting go soon. This is a story of a gallivanting dog, an underwear-eating goat, a grumpy mechanic and one annoying neighbor who was very determined to like and be liked by said grump.

    Stone and his neighbor, Dare started off on the wrong foot. Since then, Stone deviced devious pranks just to push the other man’s buttons. Usually, these involved causing a ruckus early weekend mornings. Once, he even rented a petting zoo for one of the Four Bears, Everett’s daughter’s birthday party. A goat wandered into Dare’s yard as he was berating his neighbor. He was only wearing boxers…

    I was annoyed by Stone’s antics but I couldn’t help but be amused by them too. He’s one of those people who can make you laugh despite yourself. He is goofy, charming, kind-hearted and yeah, quite intrusive. He had Dare’s dog, Rudy, microchipped without Dare’s permission to keep the dog from getting lost.

    Rudy is the star of the show. He doesn’t do leashes. Rudy likes their neighbor and the man clearly loves the dog. There’s no stopping the mutt from going over next door where he’s very welcome. So you could see Dare’s dilemma here.

    Dare leads a solitary life with only Rudy by his side. He restores bikes as a living, a job where he can work alone. People are not his thing. He has anger management issues that had long ago earned him a record. Dare is your tough, grunty alpha male but also bit insecure. And a complete mush when it comes to his dog. The scene where he broke down when Rudy got injured, I was really feeling that.

    The two men are in their 40s but sometimes they come across as younger or should I say, immature. There is misunderstanding in the story but it happens off-page. It started in book 1, Caulky, when the Four Bears were helping Stone move in. Here, the two men squabbled while strongly feeling the USTs. Until Stone finally outright asked why Dare hated him. The answer was kinda dumb.

    But, the romance was cute. It’s always fun to see grumpy guys melting bit by bit. I’m happy they took a chance at dating. For a relationship that started off with miscommunication, Dare and Stone was able to connect and fit seamlessly into each other lives. You wouldn’t think two very different individuals would make it work but K.M. Neuhold was able to put the two together in an endearing way that left no room for doubts.

    I love the Four Bears! I enjoyed the way they razzed each other. Cole is pretty much very committed to his honeybee, Ren. Ev continues to be the doting dad while poor Ollie, the hopeless romantic, found himself in yet another failed relationship. I feel sorry for the guy because his book comes last.

    Dare’s nephew, West, shows up on his doorstep. He was thrown out of the house by his homophobic dad. West is a bit of a smart ass. I hope he gets his own book.

    Nailed is a fun book. I liked it better than Caulky. Dare and Stone are two older men who gave up on relationships long time ago. It took a free-spirited dog for them to find love in the unlikeliest person. Rudy is now living with his two favorite people. Good boy!

    P.S.

    Nailed can be read as a standalone but this series is such a blast! Best start with Caulky and find out why Cole calls Ren his honeybee. Review here.

    Dare and Rudy:

    Man & Dog Take Road Trip To Raise Money For Lung Disease – WCCO | CBS  Minnesota
    Too cute not to post

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

    Soundtrack: Absolutely Cuckoo
    Artist: The Magnetic Fields
    Album: 69 Love Songs


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