Seven of Spades: Kill Game – Cordelia Kingsbridge
Homicide detective Levi Abrams is barely holding his life together. He’s reeling from the fallout of a fatal shooting, and his relationship with his boyfriend is crumbling. The last thing he’s prepared for is a serial killer stalking the streets of Las Vegas. Or how he keeps getting thrown into the path of annoyingly charming bounty hunter Dominic Russo.
Dominic likes his life free of complications. That means no tangling with cops—especially prickly, uptight detectives. But when he stumbles across one of the Seven of Spades’s horrifying crime scenes, he can’t let go, despite Levi’s warnings to stay away.
The Seven of Spades is ruthless and always two moves ahead. Worst of all, they’ve taken a dangerously personal interest in Levi and Dominic. Forced to trust each other, the two men race to discover the killer’s identity, revealing hidden truths along the way and sparking a bond neither man expected. But that may not be enough to protect them.
This killer likes to play games, and the deck is not stacked in Levi and Dominic’s favor.
Pity that the narration did not do justice to how good the story is but Kill Game is a great start to the Seven of Spades series. This is a plot-driven murder mystery and a hunt for the Seven of Spades, a serial killer known for their vigilante motives.
I love the twist and turns and while I already have my suspect, Cordelia Kingsbridge did a great job keeping me guessing. There were some subtle hints and that equal opportunity comment by Levi but whether or not I’m on the money remains to be seen because at the latest count, there are already 4 books released and another one about to come out. This hunt is going to take a while and I’m here to see it through to the end.
I liked that the setting is in Las Vegas but instead of casinos and gambling which is kind of cliche, the book is mostly about the streets, the ordinary people and of course, the police. There were also strong, well-written female characters, like Martine and Natasha. Dom’s friends, Jasmine and Carlos were also very likable people and let’s not forget Rebel, Dom’s dog and loyal protector.
The romantic subplot, well…I wasn’t so gung-ho about it at first. Levi was already in a relationship and Stanton seemed like a nice guy. At least for me, he had good intentions. Levi apparently did not like how Stanton talks about Levi to his parents and makes decisions for him. Dominic has been crushing on Levi for some time now but keeps it professional. Dom won me over for being a real nice person because instead of taking advantage of Levi’s moments of weakness, he made it clear he had no intentions of being the rebound guy. He’s a gentleman through and through and he’s serious about Levi. So yeah, I’m in their corner now.
Cordelia Kingsbridge is a new-to-me author and she didn’t disappoint. Kill Game has a great cast, very well-executed mystery and nicely developed romance. The red herrings were conclusive and the resolution felt satisfying but Dom and Levi were not convinced. The cards are reshuffled and the game is still on.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
SPECTR: Master of Ghouls – Jordan L. Hawk
Caleb Jansen’s old life is in ruins after being possessed by the vampire spirit Gray. Now all Caleb wants is for Gray to be exorcised so he can adjust to living as a registered paranormal. Instead, District Chief Kaniyar of SPECTR offers him a new choice: be locked away for public safety, or come work for the very agency he’s spent years trying to avoid. The only good thing to come from Caleb’s possession is his relationship with federal exorcist John Starkweather, but even that seems doomed to end before it can really begin.
John’s newest case is a nightmare: someone is summoning demons and forcing them to possess women and boys snatched from the streets of Charleston. If his team can’t find the summoner soon enough, the possessions will become permanent, transforming the victims into ghouls. To make matters worse, he barely prevents Gray from feeding on their only lead.
Can John shield his heart from Caleb, who only seems interested in a temporary hook-up? Can Caleb keep Gray under control while they hunt for the summoner? Or will the cost of solving the case be higher than any of them could have guessed?
Because the master of ghouls has set his sights on a new target: Gray.
Happy first of Halloween! It’s my favorite season so here are some vampires and ghouls to kick things off.
Master of Ghouls is the second novella in the SPECTR series and I admit, my brain wasn’t fully engaged when I was listening to this, what with chores and what have you. It also went by fast but given that, I liked how Gray+Caleb+John’s relationship is progressing at a reasonable pace. Cinnamon roll Gray is still bewildered with humans in general and Caleb’s issues in particular because Gray assumes them living with John is a done deal whereas Caleb is all doubts and second guesses.
There were also ghouls that Gray is itching to hunt and now that Caleb and Gray are working for SPECTR, I am excited for them to unleash full drakul power which is something that John gets a kick out of. He’s still trying to find ways to get Gray out of Caleb but take your time, John.
Distracted as I was, I still felt the rush and the suspense at the climax. Jordan L. Hawk did a good job setting up threads for the next installments and introducing a sinister villain. At the end, some doubts were put to rest and the trio took it to the next level. Yay!
Ok, John, so I said take your time but what I really mean is please don’t exorcise Gray! Just don’t. Ever.
Review of book 1, Hunter of Demons here
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Love Spell – Mia Kerick
Chance César is fabulously gay, but his gender identity—or, as he phrases it, “being stuck in the gray area between girl and boy”—remains confusing. Nonetheless, he struts his stuff on the catwalk in black patent leather pumps and a snug-in-all-the-right (wrong)-places orange tuxedo as the winner of this year’s Miss (ter) Harvest Moon Festival. He rules supreme at the local Beans and Greens Farm’s annual fall celebration, serenaded by the enthusiastic catcalls of his BFF, Emily Benson.
Although he refuses to visually fade into the background of his rural New Hampshire town, Chance is socially invisible—except when being tormented by familiar bullies. But sparks fly when Chance, Pumpkin Pageant Queen, meets Jasper (Jazz) Donahue, winner of the Pumpkin Carving King contest. Chance wants to be noticed and admired and romantically embraced by Jazz, in all of his neon-orange-haired glory.
And so at a sleepover, Chance and Emily conduct intense, late-night research, and find an online article: “Ten Scientifically Proven Ways to Make a Man Fall in Love With You.” Along with a bonus love spell thrown in for good measure, it becomes the basis of their strategy to capture Jazz’s heart.
But will this “no-fail” plan work? Can Chance and Jazz fall under the fickle spell of love?’
Chance Cezar (love the name!) is out and proud but doesn’t know which gender box to tick. He and his best friend, the quirky Emily, embark on The Plan to make Jasper “Jazz” Donahue fall in love with Chance based on an online article, “Ten Scientifically Proven Ways to Make a Man Fall In Love With You”. Such titles always gets an eye roll and should be taken with a heap ton of salt, IMHO, despite the words “scientifically proven”. Why two seemingly intelligent teenagers bother with such articles is beyond me but books featuring hapless people following how-tos has a good track record with me and Love Spell is one of those books.
Chance is sooo OTT! He sports orange hair, is capable of rocking both stilettos and chucks and isn’t afraid to wear make-up and mix his own perfume. It took a few moments but when I finally got used to his talking style, I found it funny enough to elicit a few chuckles especially combined with the epic fails his and Emily’s strategies turned out to be. Like wooing Jazz with a megawatt smile only to have gummy bears stuck in his teeth (eew!) but, if a guy voluntarily pokes his finger in your teeth to get it out, you know he’s really that into you.
Love Spell is a YA story and it’s one of those that have the YA main character worry about his sexuality or in this case, gender identity. I know some young adults might have this concerns and it is an important issue that should be addressed but I’m kinda tired of having it in almost every other YA LGBT book I encounter (looking at you, Simon). I don’t think young adults would want to read about sexuality and gender identity being an issue all the time. I know my younger self wouldn’t want to because I want my stories to treat being queer, genderfluid or ace as normal.
What kicked this story up a notch was Jazz. He is a really sweet guy and a responsible big brother to his kid sister. When he finally had enough of Chance’s BS and decided to be upfront, it was all very squee-tastic! But then, to my surprise and dismay, the story ended just when it was getting really good. Nooo! Where’s my epilogue?!
Overall, Love Spell made me laugh, cringe and root for Chance to go, get that boy! Waiting for him to get a clue at how ridiculous his maneuverings were was equal parts exasperating and funny but Jazz was worth it and more. I would have preferred Chance to worry less about his gender and focus more on other things, like getting into a good college just like how Emily is determined to get into her dream school. However, I mostly had a good time with this book and I recommend it.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
I received a copy of Love Spell from NineStar Press
via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
The Agency: Merlin in the Library – Ada Maria Soto
An Agency Short Story
Agent Martin Grove is in pain every minute of the day while his wounds slowly heal. As soon as one injury starts to fade another that was hidden presents itself, but despite that Martin is, above all, a man who appreciates routine. For him that means ‘Merlin’ must return to the regularly scheduled Saturday Children’s’ Story Hour at the library. He’s been absent for too long and his body is still a technicolor canvas of physical damage, but as long as he has his Arthur by his side, he just might make it.
Last year, His Quiet Agent blew me away with the soft, sweet story of Martin and Arthur. That it is also a wonderfully done ace romance made it unforgettable for me.
Merlin in the Library is the epilogue that follows the aftermath of Martin’s reappearance and it is written in his POV (Thank you, Ada Maria!). Martin was recovering from his injuries and trying to pick up his routines. Arthur has now become an important person in his life and together they continue the Saturday story class.
This is such a lovely follow up.
Still as soft as the first story or perhaps more tender now that we get a glimpse inside Martin’s fragile mental state and his connection with Arthur. I love how the author was able to develop their relationship with a delicate hand in a slow but sure way. It warms my heart to see Arthur and Martin are doing well. I hope we get more stories about them.
Me raving about His Quiet Agent here.
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
Merry and Bright – Joanna Chambers
Three seasonal love stories from Joanna Chambers
Quin Flint is unimpressed when his gorgeous colleague, Rob Paget, asks for extra time off at Christmas. As far as Quin is concerned, Christmas is a giant waste of time. Quin’s on the fast track to partnership, and the season of goodwill is just getting in the way of his next big project. But when Quin’s boss, Marley, confiscates his phone and makes him take an unscheduled day off, Quin finds himself being forced to confront his regrets, past and present, and think about the sort of future he really wants…and who he wants it with.
Mr Perfect’s Christmas
Sam Warren’s new job hasn’t been going so well so the last thing he’s in the mood for is the obligatory office Christmas party, particularly since Nick Foster’s going to be there. Nick–the guy whose shoes Sam has been trying to fill–seems to take very opportunity to point out where Sam’s going wrong. But when Sam receives an unexpected Secret Santa gift at the party, he’s forced to question his assumptions about his rival. Could it be that he’s been misinterpreting Nick’s actions all along? And is it possible that his reluctant attraction to Nick is reciprocated?
Rest and Be Thankful
Things haven’t been going well for Cam McMorrow since he moved to Inverbechie. His business is failing, his cottage is falling apart and following his very public argument with café owner Rob Armstrong, he’s become a social outcast. Cam needs to get away from his troubles and when his sister buys him a ticket to the biggest Hogmanay party in Glasgow, he can’t leave Inverbechie quick enough. But when events conspire to strand him in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm, not only is he liable to miss the party, he’ll also have to ask his nemesis, Rob, for help.
Three seasonal love stories that were sweet and fluffy. Joanna Chambers writes great short stories. They are usually well-written, fully fleshed out and resolved satisfactorily. Insta-attraction is the scourge of romance short stories and the author works around that by having the characters crush on each other for a long time without the other realizing then she brings them together and BAM! The FEELS.
Humbug: posted here
Mr. Perfect: What was supposedly Sam’s Kris Kringle nightmare turned out to be a sweet revelation. Nick be like, notice me, kohai! This one’s a win.
Rest and Be Thankful: Rob and Cam did their best but it wasn’t working. Sorry guys! You’re good people. It’s just that, the story is boring. I feel bad giving you low ratings.
Humbug – 4 Stars
Mr. Perfect – 4 Stars
Rest and Be Thankful – 2.5 Stars
Overall: 4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Imperfect Match – Jordan Castillo Price
A man whose future is assigned – A heart that yearns to be free.
Lee Kennedy’s destiny is controlled by the Algorithm. It’s the reason he’s still in college, regardless of his good academic performance. He’s switched his major repeatedly and stalled on his Master’s thesis, but there’s only so much longer he can hold out. Because once he graduates, the Algorithm must be triggered.
Everyone in Lee’s family has allowed the Algorithm to match them with a spouse. As has everyone on his block. His neighborhood. In fact, everyone he’s ever known. Pairing with his own chosen match seems inevitable…until, at his sister’s wedding, he meets Roman.
The waiter lives in the Taxable District, a run-down neighborhood that’s only a brief train ride away, but feels like another world. The seedy District is governed by different standards—different expectations—so it’s not exactly a surprise that Roman isn’t married. But it’s definitely a shock to taste his lips.
One forbidden encounter has Lee reeling. He questions everything. His past. His future. And especially the Algorithm. He longs for the freedom to choose not only his own partner, but his own destiny.
When defying the Algorithm will cost everything—family, home, and even livelihood—is Lee strong enough to take another path?
Hmm…did I just listen to this in the wrong frame of mind or is Jordan Castillo Price off her game?
Written in the same style as Hemovore and narrated by the same person, the great Joel Leslie, Imperfect Match is a dystopian story of freedom, self-discovery and the courage to travel the road less taken.
I liked JCP’s style of avoiding info dump by delivering the information bit by bit through casual mentions or as part of a character’s thoughts or actions. This was really effective in Hemovore where the polarized world of V+ and V- cases seemed oh so real. Here, the worldbuilding was patchy. What is a boomer? What makes a boomer different from taxrats? What was that plague? What kind of government do they have? How do you tax the Taxable district when they use the barter system instead of cash? I have so many questions.
For me the Benefit district vs Taxable district conflict was just a convoluted version of your average rich vs poor conflict and I would have enjoyed the story more if it was straightforward contemporary where rich kid Lee had to slum it in some third world country. It would have made it more diverse too.
The romance was nothing spectacular. Both Roman and Lee were likable people but I wasn’t feeling too invested in their relationship. There were big chunks of the story were Roman was not even present and these chunks were the parts where Lee had his awakenings. Nothing really shocking, just a privileged person discovering that his privileges come with a price and that the other side of tracks seemed more and more appealing.
There is not much conflict. The boomers were discriminating against taxrats and Lee’s choices but Lee’s family was supportive and the taxrats were welcoming. And though Lee went against the Algorithm, there were no dire consequences.
I’d say this is okay. I didn’t hate it but this is not a JCP book I would recommend.
Review of Hemovore here.
Review of JCP books here.
2.5 Stars – far from hate but not quite a like
Gnomon – Luchia Dertien
Emile Delaurier is a beautiful militant revolutionary, a living beacon of righteous justice for the world. For Renaire, an artist in a constant battle against the demons in the bottle, it was obsession at first sight. His devotion led to two years of homicidal partnership as Renaire followed Delaurier in his ruthless quest for equality through the death of the corrupt, like a murderous Robin Hood.
Then Delaurier breaks his pattern, leading Renaire into Russia to kill a reporter with no immoral background, and gives no explanation for his actions.
When Interpol contacts Renaire, he already has enough problems—keeping Delaurier alive, dealing with the shift in their relationship, and surviving the broken past that still haunts him. But when he learns what Interpol wants from him, Renaire must face the truth about Delaurier: that a noble man isn’t always a good one. He’s left with a choice no man should ever have to make—to follow his heart or his morals.
My first impression was that Gnomon sounded like an 18th century novel set in the modern age. Then I learned the novel started life as a Les Miz fanfic and things started to click
Some niggles though: How are Delaurier and Renaire traipsing all over Europe with a suitcase full of weapons with nary a disguise without getting caught? With the kind of iconic face Delaurier has, somebody should have recognize them already. Plus the pair, and STB members as a whole, are really not the most circumspect of criminals. Most of all, Renaire has explicitly mentioned to an Interpol agent no less that he and Delaurier have killed people. Shouldn’t they be handcuffed and read their rights already?
And so while my analytical side keeps pointing out anomalies here and there, the more excitable part of my brain shushed it with gentle reminders to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride. I did and I was swept along Renaire’s all consuming obsession that turned into love that, happily, Delaurier reciprocated just as passionately. Also, Will M. Watt charmed me with his narration, so, really, resistance is futile.
How obsessed is Renaire? Every time he gets knock down and open his eyes, he marvels at how beautiful Delaurier is. He also paints him all the time and follows him EVERYWHERE. Because Delaurier leads and Renaire follows. That is the way of their world. I normally find this kind of obsession suffocating (which is why Call Me By Your Name didn’t work for me) but Luchia Dertain did a great job portraying Renaire’s overwhelming feelings without making me gag. I also love the prose, which is written in Renaire’s point of view, and how it sounds so very Renaire.
Gnomon is a story of two beautiful, madly in love, crazy, stupid revolutionaries out to change the world. Actually, Renaire, who has PTSD and is a chain smoking alcoholic, doesn’t really believe in the CAUSE, he is in it for Delaurier. Delaurier is the leader. He is “the fire that burns so bright” that Renaire could “feel it from five stories up” because Renaire needs to feel something. This is a not a sweet, fluffy love affair. This is two unhinge people making things difficult for themselves because they’re
shitwired that way. Somehow they made it work. And yes, I will follow these stupid terrorist boys.
My unpopular opinion on Call Me By Your Name here
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Death and the Devil: When the Devil Drives – L.J. Hayward
Work-life balance for a spy may be an oxymoron, but Jack Reardon likes a good challenge. And he’s almost bested this one. He’s settled into his Meta-State promotion as a field leader and into his new team with a second he can trust. Shop in order, he can take a day or two off when Ethan blows into town, their bargain finally starting to paying off.
Assassin Ethan Blade has few pleasures in his life—a decent cup of tea, a job well done, racing his fleet of supercars, and Jack. With plans to combine the last two into one thrilling weekend, Ethan’s attempt at having a normal, happy life may deliver everything he’s ever desired—or backfire spectacularly.
Jack and Ethan made a bargain, but the deal is thrown into jeopardy when the expectations and identities of the dealmakers shift—stoking the fires of doubt and jealously. Not to mention a contract killer out for revenge and an illness that threatens to reveal closely guarded secrets. Rewards are on the table for both men, maybe bigger than they even realize, if only they can renegotiate—and survive.
Hah! Jack is in trouble:
“You made him more … human.”
That pesky, secondary charge on the grenade went off under his ribs, a warm rush from the mini explosion rolling through him
Going at this ’relationship thing’ really sloooow. Which I love but also excruciating because just come out and say it, Jack!
Ethan allows Jack to drive his baby, Victoria the Vanquish. The man is smitten, alright. Tell him, Ethan!
Jack comes down with that infamous fever where he deliriously blurts out stupid embarrassing things. Ethan patiently plays the nurse then disappears again. Great.
You guys, TALK.
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
Primrose Files: Aliens, Smith and Jones – Blaine D. Arden
“It’s not all about serving coffee and typing reports.”
Working for a secret organisation specialising in alien cover-ups, Connor Smith is no stranger to the abnormal or dangerous. His love life on the other hand… not so exciting. Until he reluctantly agrees to a blind date and meets the perfect bloke, Jason.
Things are finally falling into place for Connor, so of course that’s when he attracts an alien stalker.
Noah Jones, ex-alien, has been stranded on Earth and forced to live as a human since 1648. Alone and detached from the world around him, Noah has spent centuries observing and recording humankind. In all that time, he’s only experienced a connection with a human once… until he finds Connor.
Even knowing Connor is in a relationship, Noah can’t ignore their potential bond, or stay away.
While dealing with missing alien artefacts, a dangerous and shadowy group of collectors, and the ever-present Noah, Connor finds his orderly life crumbling around him. At least he still has the perfect boyfriend…
When Noah goes missing, Connor is forced to face the feelings growing between them and the mounting evidence that Jason isn’t who he says he is…
Aliens, Smith and Jones is a riff on the fated one/mate theme popular in animal shifter stories. Noah is a Rei, a purple alien blob of energy whose species visit other planets to observe and record. He was stuck on earth for almost 400 years. Somewhere along the way, he transforms into a human. The Rei absorbs energy and they have one particular individual, their mate, with whom they have a special connection. Noah had found this long time ago with Daffyd and he didn’t expect to find it again in this modern age.
Connor, whom I found bland and forgettable, works for Primrose, a Men in Black type of organization that handles anything and everything alien. He usually ends up a victiim of his bestfriend, Isa’s matchmaking schemes. Isa introduced him to Jason and they hit it off. On the surface Jason seems to be the perfect boyfriend.
The trouble with this set-up is that it’s hard to care about Noah and Connor’s romance when they are so hung up on other people. Going in, I knew Jason was in the picture. I just didn’t expect Noah would have his Daffyd too. Also Connor spent more time with Jason, time that could have been spent establishing his relationship with Noah. Aliens, Smith and Jones would have worked better had the romance given more time to blossom.
I also don’t understand the point of killing off an important secondary character. It really didn’t do anything to the story except give a little bit of unnecessary drama to the proceedings.
There were a bunch of more interesting characters who would be great leads in their own books like Lieutenant Matthews, Isa’s boss, and Francis the shy, geeky tech. It would also be great if there were aliens working in the organization as oppose to just herding them off to some island. I hope Noah does well as a consulting adviser in Primrose.
This is a good example of a 2.5-star book. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t quite like it either.
I received a copy of Aliens, Smith and Jones from
via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
2.5 Stars – far from hate but not quite a like
Sidekick Squad: Not Your Sidekick – C.B. Lee
Welcome to Andover… where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, who Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.
Jessica Tran was born into a family of supers, Mom, Dad and big sis are superheroes, lil bro is a super genius. She, however, is average. It hasn’t stopped her from trying her best and doing her research to find out that maybe, just maybe, she does have some kind of power. Jess reminds me of Rock Lee from Naruto who couldn’t do any fancy chakra manipulation like the other shinobi but was instead dubbed as a genius of hard work.
Blame it on my elementary days spent hoarding Marvel collectible cards but I have always fantasized about having superpowers. Telekinesis because I’m a lazy-ass shit. Teleportation or flight because I want to travel but I’m broke. Supercomputer brain because I suck big time at physics and I was, unfortunately, a physics major. Etc, etc. So, at first glance, C.B. Lee’s Sidekick Squad world is the kind of world I want to get stuck in. It seemed an exciting, ordered world where superheroes fight super villains and everybody cheers them on. All things in their right place until Jess becomes friends with M and Abby and she starts noticing and asking questions about the villains.
For me, villains are almost always more interesting than a goody-goody hero. For one, they are usually more intelligent, complex and nuanced. And as a lifetime of anime has taught me, villains are not always bad. They usually have a compelling reason to do what they do. Jess started to realize that there’s more to this heroes vs villain thing than their government has let on. And I started thinking I might be better off as an average citizen in Andover.
Jess has a crush on Abby, an elite student and varsity player in her school. I admit, I am neutral on the FF front, it doesn’t affect me the way MM couples do but C.B Lee did a great job creating the tension and describing the awe Jess felt towards Abby. There was mutual attraction between the two and it was cute how Abby, in the shadows, tries to encourage Jess to ask her out and how Jess is just a bundle of nerves when it comes to asking Abby out
Bells and Emma are Jess’ bestfriends. Bells is crushing on Emma but Emma is oblivious. Bells has some secrets of his own and I can’t wait to read his book. Would Emma finally notice?
Not Your Sidekick is a good stab at the heroes vs villains trope. C.B. Lee has created a world where, at first glance,
things seem to be clearly divided between good and evil. How Jess and her friends uncover some of the secrets and how the lines become blurred were pretty interesting but overall this book falls between like and love. This means I couldn’t really pinpoint what was wrong, maybe nothing really. It’s more like, it didn’t really wow me. I’d still recommend this books for the interesting premise, great characters and cute FF couple.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love