Fallen Messengers: Fractured Souls – Ava Marie Salinger
Humans are dying in San Francisco. The most shunned angel on Earth may very well hold the key as to why…
When Cassius Black moves to San Francisco for a fresh start, the angel’s hopes of staying below the radar of the supernatural organizations that oversee the otherworldly and magic users in the city are dashed when he stumbles across a dead body in the sewers. His grim discovery soon puts him in the sight of the Argonaut Agency and Francis Strickland, the bureau director who knows his darkest secrets.
Morgan King and his team of Argonaut agents have been hunting for the culprits behind a series of gruesome killings that have rocked the city all summer. Killings that bear sinister hallmarks of sacrificial rituals where the victims’ souls have been ripped from their bodies. When Fate brings Cassius in Morgan’s path, he realizes the angel everyone likes to call The Devil may very well be the only person who can help them track down the murderers.
Morgan and Cassius soon find themselves chasing down a sect of black magic sorcerers and cross paths with a mysterious warlock whose actions evoke disturbing echoes of an incident from Cassius’s past. As rumors of a potential plot to tear the Nether reach their ears, Cassius and Morgan must work together to defeat their common enemy and save the city from destruction, all while fighting their growing attraction for one another.
Fractured Souls is the first novel in the MM urban fantasy romance series Fallen Messengers. If you like action-packed paranormal adventures with romance and snark, then get this pulse-pounding book today and enter a world you won’t want to leave!
If I make a list of books I’d love to see as a movie, Fractured Souls would definitely be on it. This book delivers the action-packed paranormal adventure it promised.
Fractured Souls is the first book of Fallen Messengers, an urban fantasy/paranormal series set in a world after The Fall. There was a huge rift, and all manner of magical and mythical creatures now walked the earth. Four major organizations are in charge of keeping supernatural creatures in line.
The world-building is exceptionally detailed without overwhelming or bogging down the pace. I loved this world of the Fallen the author created. It’s incredibly fascinating to read about beings from the deepest pits of hell and from the highest hierarchies of heaven.
I liked the writing as well. It flowed smoothly and briskly, but major credit is also due to narrator Alex Kydd’s masterful delivery. He did an awesome job bringing the characters to life and made going through the info-dumps a breeze.
The story is told in the POVs of the angel, Cassius Black, a much-feared pariah in the supernatural world, and cocky Argonaut agent, Morgan King, also an angel. They were forced to work together to solve the mystery of the ‘fractured souls’ and prevent another rift from happening. The bigger mystery here is who or what exactly are Cassius Black and Morgan King?
I liked Cass from the get-go. As the story progressed, it became apparent that Cass was so much more powerful than he already was. It was also revealed that while he is the most reviled and hated creature on earth, the unassuming man is actually a self-sacrificing cinnamon roll worthy of the highest sainthood. This is the guy who secretly saved the world and continues to do so as we speak. That he is a bit of a tsundere only added to his appeal.
I didn’t like Morgan at first. Probably still don’t like him 100%. He was a pushy asshole. He kinda redeemed himself when it became clear he wasn’t taking any of the shit people throw at Cass, and he’s going to break the neck of the next person who is mean to the poor angel. I’ll go easy on him since he has Cassius’ back, and they’re great as a team.
Not sure I’m totally onboard with Cassius and Morgan’s romance. Their chemistry didn’t come across as strongly as I would have liked. Although, the story did a good job building up the mystery relating to their true identities and their connection. I’ve read other reviews extolling the virtues of Victor, Cass’s demon ex. I prefer an angel-demon merger, so I couldn’t help wishing this was their story instead.
The rest of the cast drew me in almost immediately. They are from Morgan’s team. I enjoyed the banters and their various personal connections to each other. My favorite part was how they took Cassius to their fold after knowing his innate goodness and became his biggest allies.
The coolest part of the book is the fight scenes. Oh hell yeah! You get mind-blowing displays of powers from various supernatural creatures. From angels and demons to witches and mages, no one held anything back. I think it would look super mega fantastic on screen!
It did feel a bit too Son Goku, the way Cass’s and Morgan’s powers kept leveling up and up and up. And up. But it didn’t dampen the experience because the scenes was all friggin’ AMAZING!!! And I adore Cass and enjoy seeing him so badass. Also, I love superhero movies and superpowers, so I was living for everything!
Fractured Souls is an action-packed series opener, where the fallen walk the earth and demons rise from the pits of hell. It got all the snark and romance, magic and mayhem you could ever ask for. All in all, fascinating, entertaining, and hella spectacular!
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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I grabbed this series on a whim because I like the word ‘solnyshko.’ I was glad it was the weekend because I ended up reading until 5:00 AM. I finished the first book in one sitting. This duet is just sooo good.
Now this might not be most people’s cup of tea. This comes with a list of warnings, from homophobia to graphic violence and PTSD. Things get nasty, even horrific, at some points. So please do head the TWs.
Beyond all that darkness, this is a story of ‘two broken people who found each other,‘ according to the author’s notes. It all started with a kidnapping…
The Solnyshko Duet: The Kidnapping Of Roan Sinclair – Ashlyn Drewek
Roan Sinclair’s life is perfect, just ask anyone. Set to graduate college and bound for grad school at Georgetown, Roan’s life has been all planned out for him. Except, he doesn’t want it. Dedicated to his music, he dreams of a life free from his parents’ expectations. Those dreams are gone the minute he’s kidnapped by a group of Russians, led by the tall, dark, and broody Sasha — a man ripped straight from Roan’s fantasies. Determined to make it out alive, Roan will do whatever is necessary to secure his freedom, even if that means seducing his captor.
Aleksandr Vassiliev doesn’t care about anything except surviving in a merciless world. Known as the Wolf of Verkhoyansk, Sasha’s reputation for brutality is far-reaching and well-deserved. When a bank robbery goes wrong, he’ll do whatever he can to fix it — including kidnapping the bank owner’s son. Instead of complying like he should, Roan defies Sasha at every turn. Worst of all, he makes Sasha want things he can’t have, things that are a death sentence for men like him. Things like Roan Sinclair.
Content warning: This book contains references to alcohol/drug use, sexual assault, graphic violence, self-harm, ethnic and homosexual slurs, and a lot of profanity. Reader discretion is advised.
Roan Sinclair is a poor little rich boy trapped in a gilded cage. Music is his passion, but his banker dad blackmailed him to take a business major. He has one year to go before he leaves for business school.
Aleksandr ‘Sacha’ Vassiliev is a feared, ruthless killer, not a bank robber and certainly not a kidnapper. But when a bank heist had gone wrong, a heist they didn’t fully understand why they had to do, he and his fellow bratva members were forced to change tactics. They kidnapped the banker’s son instead.
It wasn’t the most ideal meeting, to say the least, but right from the get-go, Roan got under Sacha’s skin. Given his environment, the Russian is deeply in the closet. But he pinged Roan’s gaydar, and our boy used it to his advantage.
One of the things I really loved about the books was the writing. There were no long paragraphs, and it’s very easy to read. The prose is straight to the point. Just 3-4 sentences per paragraph, yet they conveyed everything the reader needs to know. You feel the emotions jumping off the page. The graphic bits were written to show the nastiness without being gratuitous.
Thawing the cold, dead heart of a man like Sacha is an impossible feat. Our boy Roan not only brought it back to life, but he became the center of Sacha’s universe. I was completely riveted to their journey, swept away by a tide of emotions. The story is devastating, painful, and, as mentioned, quite dark. But the lighter moments when they come is as heart-warming and bright as the proverbial solnyshko the duet is named after.
It ends with a HFN but this is one of the best Stockholm Syndrome romances for me!
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
The Solnyshko Duet: The Vengeance Of Roan Sinclair – Ashlyn Drewek
After a lifetime of death and suffering, Aleksandr Vassiliev finally has everything he could ever want — the most important being someone to share his future with. Somehow a spoiled American named Roan gave Sasha a reason to see life could be more. Except, that’s where the fairytale ends. He’s not surprised Roan hasn’t been the same since his attack, but with every day that passes, Sasha sees less and less of the boy he fell in love with. He would do anything to get his Solnyshko back, but old enemies from Sasha’s past might end up costing him everything, even Roan.
Roan Sinclair used to have it all. Now? He’s a shell of his former self. No longer the rich, carefree college guy who brought a Russian criminal to his knees, all he’s trying to do is recover from an assault that nearly killed him. Roan knows he should be grateful to be alive… but he’s not. He’s humiliated. Ashamed. Most of all, he’s angry. He hasn’t forgotten the part his dad played in everything that happened and when he threatens Sasha’s freedom, Roan takes a page from the Russian’s playbook. Maybe vengeance will piece him back together. Maybe then Roan can move on and get to the happily ever after he so desperately wants with the Wolf of Verkhoyansk.
Content warning: This book contains references to alcohol/smoking, ethnic and homosexual slurs, sexual assault, mental health issues including PTSD and depression, on-page torture, and a lot of profanity. Reader discretion is advised.
The second book picks up on the aftermath of the very traumatic events of Book 1. Roan is not in a good place, and Sacha is at his wit’s end. He does everything he thinks would help Roan, but the younger man isn’t taking it well.
Here we have the major presence of Misha, Sacha’s boss, who is also sort of a friend and Misha’s nephew, Ilya. Sacha hired the young man to be Roan’s bodyguard. The easy going man provided a normalcy in Roan’s life during these troubled times.
Misha has intrigued me since Book 1. He offers Sacha advice on his Roan situation. Where Sacha is a grumpy mofo, Misha is all easy smiles. But make no mistake, they are both wolves. I am so thrilled the bratva boss is going to have his own book!
I struggled for a bit in the first part because going through Sacha and Roan’s rocky patch wasn’t a pleasant experience. It was angsty and raw. Communication isn’t their strongest suit, and you can really feel how bad they were struggling. All of these is worth going through just to get to the part where Roan smiles and Sacha declares, his sun is back!
And that’s when we get to the vengeance portion of the story. Roan wants revenge for what his father did, and a ghost from the past is out to get Sacha. I really enjoyed this arc because it felt happier and lighter despite the gruesome bratva business.
Sacha and Roan evolved to become the power couple they were meant to be. The pace here was also smoother and faster, and there was more action. Characters from the author’s other series popped up, the very mysterious Leander and his flamboyant husband, Bennet. I must investigate these two.
Both books go through suspenseful, brutal climaxes where the piper is paid in blood and gore. But this time, the ending is a solid and very satisfying HEA. It was such a sweet and uplifting conclusion that sensation of relief was very palpable. I couldn’t ask for a better one for Sasha and Roan! Sometimes all you need in life is a new lease and some sunshine.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
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Thick As Thieves – Lucy Lennox
I’ve been in love with my best friend since forever. Okay, fine. Like, kindgergarten. It started out platonic, obviously, but then became… nope. Still platonic. The problem is that Parker Ellis has been straight since forever. And that makes it difficult to convince him the two of us are meant to be together.
And now there’s no point. All is lost. He’s gone and gotten engaged to his high-school sweetheart which means I have to grin and bear it while pretending to be the happy, supportive best man while he prepares to commit his life to a woman I can’t even fault. She’s great. We’ve all been friends forever. I know he’ll be happy with Erin, just not… just not as happy as he could be with me.
I’ll admit. Sometimes I press the easy button. Like when Julian Thick had offered me half his sandwich back in grade school after noticing I didn’t have any food. Or when I’d needed a date to homecoming in tenth grade and Erin told me she was it. Or when I’d used the one thing that came easy to me, skiing, to get my college tuition paid for. Or when Erin had showed back up in my life six months ago and told it was time to marry and start a family…
But for the first time in my life I’m facing something that’s not at all easy. It’s my wedding weekend and I’ve just been left at the altar. Not only that, but when my best friend whisks me away to drown my sorrows in a snowy cabin in Aster Valley, I accidentally discover Julian’s been keeping secrets. Big secrets.
The kind of secrets that lead to hot experimental kisses in front of a blazing fire, tentative physical exploration in a way I’d never imagined before, and the kind of intimate, true confessions I’d never even dreamed of between me and the one person who’s always been my true home.
But after twenty-plus years of thinking of Jules as my friend without benefits, is it truly possible to change who we are to each other? There’s no easy button this time, but I’m willing to do the work. I only wonder if Julian is ready to trust I really mean it.
This outstanding contemporary romance series makes another stop in the idyllic town of Aster Valley with this deliciously pine-y childhood friends-to-lovers tale.
Thick As Thieves is about lawyer Julian Thick being hopelessly in love with his best friend, Parker Ellis, since kindergarten. As these things usually go, Parker is spectacularly oblivious to Jules’ more than friendly feelings for him.
Now Parks has been dating their other friend, Erin, on and off for years. They’re finally going to tie the knot. On the day of the wedding, Erin ghosted. Ever the loyal friend, Jules takes Parker to his secluded cabin in Aster Valley to console him. The very cabin he intended to be his wallowing hole where he drinks his feelings to oblivion and gets over Parks once and for all.
This is where things heated up because Parker is coming to realize his feelings for Julian, not just now but since the beginning, has always been something more. This, after fending off a Grinder hook-up who turned up at the cabin. One sent to Jules by their well-meaning a.k.a. meddling friends.
I love all the Aster Valley books. This one is as fabulous as the rest. It is a great example of why the friends-to-lovers trope is so squee-tastic. There are a million takes on the trope, but Lucy Lennox still made it fresh, exciting, and HELLA SWOONY!!!
Jules and Parks have known each other all their lives so the chemistry is pretty much a given, but no less fantastic. Their relationship felt comfortable and solid as friends. Their transition to boyfriends happened very naturally. There was a sense of rightness to it as things clicked into place. There’s something so beautiful about two people who are always meant to be together fulfilling that destiny and finding their HEA.
My heart went out to Julian. He practically endured everything for his best friend. Parker is a doofus for not recognizing his feelings for his best friend for that long. But when he realized he was in love with Jules, he was all in, 101%. They’re amazing together!
Hands down, my favorite part was the contract. Young Jules and Parks signed a piece of paper with the words “You and Me. Always” written on it. Unknown to Parker, Jules held on to that piece of paper for decades. That scene where he discovered it, I was as blown away as Parker! It was just sooo sweet and so Julian!
Much later, cheesy sappy guy that he is, Parker amended the contract. And blew Jules away.
One of the themes is how safety nets could become bad habits. This is shown through Erin, who wants to be adventurous, but returns to Parker again and again because she feels comfortable with him. She is not evil. Mostly, she’s a confused person who doesn’t take responsibility for her actions and doesn’t know what she wants from life.
Here’s the thing with this series. I’ve come across real vile villains in many books, but I have never been affected by any of them. Here, the antagonists are ordinary people who are merely unlikeable, yet their scenes make me feel so bad they take me out of the story. The author really knows how to get under the readers’ skin.
It happened again with Erin’s scene. Parker had a long overdue talk with her. I know it was needed for closure and clearing the way for Jules. But it went on for so long. It was repetitive and just plain tiresome. I felt so bored I nearly dropped the book. I held on because I was rooting really hard for Jules and Parker, and they’re close to the finish line.
Overall, Thick As Thieves is a fulfillment of a promise backed by 20 years of memories, unrequited feelings, and loyal friendship. It’s heartwarming, sweet, cheesy, and a damn good reason to stay in Aster Valley, always.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Thick As Thieves can be read as a standalone but why miss out on the other charming men of Aster Valley?
Witness a dreamy rock star romance in Winter Waites.
Meet the sassy chef and his adoring football player in Right As Raine.
There’s an adorkable bumblebee in need of a knight in shining motorbike in Sweet As Honey
A starstruck sheriff clashes with a trouble magnet in Hot As Heller
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Necessary Evils: Moonstruck – Onley James
Atticus Mulvaney is the eldest son of eccentric billionaire, Thomas Mulvaney—a role he takes very seriously. Atticus takes everything seriously. Like his brothers, Atticus is a psychopath, raised to right the wrongs of a broken justice system. Unlike his brothers, he’s not very good at it.
Jericho Navarro is no psychopath, but he is a vicious killer. Like Atticus, he also has a secret life. To most, he’s just a mechanic. But to a ragtag group of social misfits, he’s Peter Pan, teaching them to eliminate those who prey on the weak with extreme prejudice.
When Atticus and Jericho come face to face over a shared enemy, their accidental meeting ends in an explosively hot hookup neither can forget. But they have nothing in common. Atticus is a buttoned-up closeted scientist and Jericho is a man on a mission, determined to find and punish those responsible for the death of his sister. Still, Jericho can’t stay away. And, truthfully, Atticus doesn’t want him to.
As Jericho’s mission begins to bleed into Atticus’s life, two separate but equally brutal families will need to learn how to fight together to take out a common enemy. But no amount of brute force can show Jericho how to scale the walls of a psychopath’s heart. Can Jericho convince Atticus that, sometimes, the couple who kills together stays together?
Moonstruck is a high heat, intense psychopath romance with an HEA and no cliffhangers. It features a fumbling, sexually confused maniac and the dominating, unapologetic gang leader who can’t stop tormenting him. As always, there’s gratuitous violence, very dark humor, more killers than you can count, and enough explosive chemistry to level a city block. This is book three in the Necessary Evils series. Each book follows a different couple.
More Mulvaney madness today. Couldn’t get enough of this crazy family!
Moonstruck is the 3rd book of Necessary Evils, a series about a family of serial killers meting punishment to fellow monsters. The family was founded by Thomas, a billionaire and a genius psychiatrist, who adopted seven boys, Atticus, August, twins Asa and Avi, Archer, Aidan, and Adam. They were carefully selected and trained to be highly accomplished individuals in various fields by day and deadly vigilante killers by night.
Now August might be my favorite Mulvaney, but I have a soft spot a mile wide for my grumpy Atticus. He was the first to be adopted and, therefore, felt pressured to make Daddy Mulvaney proud.
Atticus tries so hard to be perfect but always felt like he’s coming up short. Like his brothers, the man is an over-achiever. He is both M.D. and Ph.D. The thing with Atticus, trained killer that he is, the man actually hates killing (because it’s unsanitary). And by his brothers’ accounts, isn’t very good at it.
On one of his assignments, he stumbles upon another killer, Jericho Navarro, in what was perhaps the most perfect meet-cute for a pair of murderers ever! Bossy mechanic Jericho promptly latched on to the grumpy ginger, recognizing the man’s submissive nature from the get-go. Gives him the most adorable nickname you can give a psychopath, “Freckles“.
“I’m not letting you go, Freckles. I’m just not. You can call it a business arrangement, an affair, a kidnapping, some kind of midlife crisis. But whatever you call it, you’re mine. And I protect what’s mine.”
I’m not a fan of dirty talk and, man, Jericho has a mouth on him! Other than that, it was a lot of fun watching Atticus’ prickly submissive nature meshed with Jericho’s affectionate dominance. It’s not just Atticus’ submissiveness. Jericho was also quick to recognize and appreciate everything good about his man.
“Do you think I want anybody else? Nobody compares to you, Freckles. You are this weirdly perfect combination of impenetrable and vulnerable and I can’t fucking get enough of it.”
The family’s reactions to their relationship were one of the best parts. Atticus’ brothers could be such asshats sometimes, so watching Jericho defend his Freckles gave me great satisfaction. He even called Thomas out for his treatment of his eldest son. Jericho goes declaring he wants to be Atticus everything, including be his proxy killer. And sure enough, he holds true to it. As Thomas puts it, Atticus found himself a good one!
I was so happy for my favorite grumpy ginger getting his HEA. Atticus’ special ability is mimicry. He’s used to mirroring other people, but he rarely gets to be himself. I loved how he took the courage to embrace his truth and proved he could be just as good as his brothers.
The scenes where Atticus eats granola bars while complaining about his paper not being front page in JAMA, and Jericho, fresh from a kill Atticus gifted him with, soothing his prickly man, is most definitely a very Mulvaney brand of endearing. It pretty much screams TRUE LOVE Murder Husbands-style. This is a trope I couldn’t get enough of, and watching these two serial killers falling in love is like the best thing ever!
Atticus slipped his thigh between Jericho’s, snuggling closer to tuck his head against his chest. “I know. I don’t like killing, but I’d kill for you, too.” Jericho’s stomach fluttered. “I know, Freckles. I know.”
Also, Atticus and Jericho cuddled and watched Labyrinth!!! ☆*:.｡. o(≧▽≦)o .｡.:*☆
The story is part romance and part mystery. The mystery involved Jericho’s missing sister. I wasn’t as invested in this as I was with the other books. It wasn’t as strongly delivered compared to the first two books.
Also, the series started dark but is leaning more towards steamy and humorous in this 3rd installment. I would have preferred a bit more darkness to offset that, the way the 2nd book, Psycho, perfectly balanced fluff, steam, and dark.
The case was, however, a great way to bring everyone together. All hands were on deck to solve it, including Jericho’s crew of young killers. These guys are awesome! They need their own spinoff. Jericho’s brother, Felix, will have a thing with Avi. So excited for the twins! Just a teensy bit disappointed they won’t be sharing. The plot also spent time building up Aiden and Thomas’ story. Hoo boy, I am beyond excited to see how this works!
Moonstruck continues the wonderful and worthwhile tradition of giving the Mulvaney brothers their HEA. Atticus and Jericho’s relationship might have started with murder, but it certainly breathed new life to a mimic who learned how to be himself and found his perfect match in a man who was his opposite.
The story is equal parts a very swoony insta-love romance, a riveting found family saga, and a crime procedural handled by vigilantes who love to get their hands dirty. I might not be completely over the moon about everything, but I definitely love this book to bits!
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
The Mulvaney tradition starts with the youngest, Adam the supermodel serial killer, and his feisty person, Noah, in Unhinged. It continues with the psycho and the psychic, August and Lucas, in Psycho.
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Hartbridge Christmas: Christmas Wish List – N.R. Walker
In need of work and a change of scenery, Aussie ex-pat Jayden Turner agrees to a short-term chef position at a Bed and Breakfast over the Christmas holidays. After all, how hard could it be in a small town in the mountains of Montana? What he finds is a grand old house in a beautiful town, and his new boss is gorgeous, gay, and single.
After his divorce, Carter “Cass” Campion bought his great-aunt’s rundown country manor in his home town, and he’s determined to get it ready for the busy holiday period. Recently out as gay, he’s been focused solely on his business and hasn’t had time for a man. Not that many gay men come through Hartbridge . . .
As his new clients arrive, and being away from his two kids, celebrating Christmas is the last thing on Cass’s mind. But his new chef has other ideas. And if there’s one thing on his Christmas Wish List this year, Jayden can make it come true.
I’m not really into Christmas romances. I find them too cheesy and, well… Christmasy, for my taste. But then this book grabbed me right away, from the first time I featured its release on this blog. I mean, look at that cover!
Christmas Wish List is a holiday, insta-love romance between a charming and talented chef who had enough of the drifter life and a divorced and newly-out small-town guy with a newly-opened bed and breakfast. It is the 2nd book of the Hartbridge Christmas series. It can be read as a standalone.
The story starts with Jayden Turner, an Aussie ex-pat whose been all over the States for 15 years. He just arrived in Hartbridge for his Christmas temp job. After nearly getting lost, he meets his boss, Carter Campion, the man who single-handedly renovated an old grand manor into the magnificent Arabella Bed and Breakfast.
With guests arriving in just a couple of days, Jayden soon realized there were still a lot of to-dos in an ever-growing number of to-do lists his distractable boss scattered throughout the property. It didn’t help Jayden was a distraction himself, with his megawatt smiles, engaging humor, and indecent proposals. Or did it?
Jayden’s incessant flirting with his boss nearly irritated me, but he did it with so much good cheer, you couldn’t help but be charmed. He’s sweet, thoughtful, and very dedicated to feeding people. He’s a guy who knows what he wants and doesn’t hesitate to tell you. Yep, he’s a bossy one!
I loved that this is not a grumpy+sunshine story. Cass is a total sweetheart. He’s a gentle, unassuming guy who starts doing a million things then forgets after being distracted by yet another task that needs to be done. He’s so unassuming that Jayden (and I) was surprised the man was a top-level executive.
Having been in the closet most of his life, Cass’ life as a newly out gay man didn’t change much from before. He feels so guilty about ruining his marriage and his kids’ lives that he doesn’t let himself be happy. Cass is lonely and touched-starved. It so happens there’s a very attractive gay man who is very eager to show him the gay experience…
With so much regret, he explicitly stated that he has a business to run and that if things went sideways with Jayden, he’d be left without a chef for Christmas. I totally applaud Cass here. The man was clearly being practical and responsible, especially after all the time, money, and effort he put into the BnB.
This is why I wasn’t that pleased with Cass’s friend, Rem, encouraging him to hook up with his new and only employee. I was also annoyed at the repetitive parts where Jayden does one thing, apologizes about it, then keeps doing it anyway.
Gripes aside, the romance was magical! It was a joyous celebration of freedom, first times, and the simple, heartwarming comfort of holding hands. The last one was my favorite.
Cass and Jayden are all about communication. I loved that they do it with such easy openness. They clicked right away. They were a solid team from day one even with a deadline hanging over their head.
It was so endearing to see Cass’ character grow with Jayden’s guidance, slowly gaining confidence to truly embrace his truth. The way he lit up with each new experience was quite adorable. Jayden is pure sunshine for being the kind of person who brings joy in everyday moments.
The story could have easily gone in a steamier, angstier direction, but I loved where N.R. Walker took this. The mood hit the sweet spot for a holiday read. It’s light, humorous, cozy, and soo sweet and fluffy without being too precious.
This feel-good romance touches upon family, setting roots and grabbing happiness whenever you can. The setting is simply fabulous! Hartbridge is an idyllic, picture-perfect town full of friendly, hardworking people.
The two major secondary characters are Rem and Hamish. They are the couple from Book 1., Tic-Tac-Mistletoe. I haven’t read it yet. Now, I want to because these two are equally lovable! Cass’ ex-wife, Kendra, and their kids, Wyatt and Charlotte, were awesome too.
Overall, Christmas Wish List is a heartwarming, feel-good Hallmark romance filled with wonderful people, sumptuous food, cozy settings, and sweet, uplifting moments. There’s even a wedding! It’s everything you can ever wish for in a Christmas story and more!
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Puckboys: Egotistical Puckboy – Eden Finley & Saxon James
Partying, dudes, and hockey. What more could a gay NHL player want?
If it weren’t for Anton Hayes, my life would be perfect.
Not that he affects my life in any way. At all. That would imply I care what the winger from Philly thinks of me.
Which I don’t.
Not even a one-night stand with him can thaw his misplaced animosity toward me.
He says I’m the one with the ego, but he can talk. He rivals me for most egotistical puck boy in the league.
I hate him as much as he hates me. Even if I crave a repeat.
When it comes to hockey, I’m all about the game.
I’ve worked for years to be one of the best in the league, and l’ve done it without splashing my orientation all over the tabloids.
My hockey image is one I’ve carefully cultivated, and after one night with Ezra Palaszczuk, I risk it all.
He’s cocky, obnoxious, and has an ego bigger than Massachusetts. And okay, maybe he’s the sexiest man I’ve ever known.
We’ll never get along. Not when we sleep together. Not even when my possessive streak awakens.
That doesn’t stop us from falling into bed together over and over again.
Hockey romance is my most-read MM sports romance. I don’t know what it is about these hockey players that makes them so shippable. Being gorgeous specimens of humanity, I guess. I barely know anything about the sport. Mind you, I hate sports, but the way these hockey romances play out, I’m almost tempted to watch some games.
Our egotistical puckboy is hockey royalty, Ezra Palaszczuk. He’s an openly gay troublemaking manwhore who never shuts up. Or so it seems. A closer look reveals a man who wants affection but fears rejection. As unlikely as it seems, he’s also an inspiration to aspiring queer athletes. Spend time with him, you’ll notice how he subtly goes out of his way to make people happy.
Ez’s rival in the ice and in ego is top athlete Anton Hayes. Anton has a good boy image. He’s grateful for his privileged upbringing and he’s committed to giving back. Anton’s is so serious about it, he even has secret volunteer gigs nobody, not even his team, knows about.
The man also likes control and has a possessive streak. He doesn’t like to share. He’s still partly in the closet, with only family and teammates knowing he’s gay. He doesn’t want his orientation made public because he doesn’t want to be defined by his sexuality.
By all accounts, the two hated each other. Then one very drunk evening, Ezra was rescued by Anton from being beaten by angry fans. Feeling responsible, he takes Ezra into his apartment to sleep it off. The idiot took it upon himself to provoke his rescuer. The two ended with a hatefuck, and then continued hooking up, right until Anton was traded into Ezra’s team. And that’s when they start catching certain inescapable feelings.
I like my enemies-to-lovers story to be intense. This one has the right level of intensity that makes this trope so delicious. I live for the snark and banter! The romance was executed brilliantly, the transition very organic and so very satisfying.
Ezra, holy heck, the mouth on the guy! There were times when he was almost too much. Even during sex, he wouldn’t shut up. At some particularly exasperating statement, I even thought, man, that is such a boner killer.
Anton has no problems matching Ez snark per snark. I enjoyed how he challenges the other man and keeps him on his toes. He saw through the ego and the bluster and recognized Ez’s vulnerability and innate goodness. And I loved how he accepts Ezra for who he is all the way.
Ezra is mine.
I groan at the thought.
At doing what no one else has ever done.
The thing is, I don’t want to rein him in. I don’t want to change him. He’s light. He’s attention. People are drawn to him and his larger-than-life personality. I want to wind him up and watch him fly, then be the safe place where he can land. The one he always comes back to.
My favorite thing about these two is that they may trade in one-upmanship and sarcasm but when real issues come up, they take time to communicate properly. They talked about everything from the get-go, from how their hook-ups should go down, to going exclusive, to Ez’s family issues, to Anton’s coming out. Ez inspired Anton to embrace his truth. Attaboy!
I struggled with a few other books but when I picked this up, I was riveted for hours. I was immediately drawn to the characters, even the supporting ones. I loved the Queer Collective! They’re a group of queer NHL players who banded together. Most of these guys are from the CU Hockey series.
Rivals/enemies-to-lovers hockey romances always bring to mind that famously steamy rivalry between the cocky Russian and the polite Canadian. Happily, after a couple of chapters, comparisons to that other book faded. Egotistical Puckboy is sufficiently different to set itself apart. It’s fun, sweet, low-angst, and very swoony! It made me laugh and smile.
Let these puckboys show you a good time too!
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
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Memento Mori: Madison Square Murders – C.S. Poe
Everett Larkin works for the Cold Case Squad: an elite—if understaffed and overworked—group of detectives who solve the forgotten deaths of New York City. Larkin is different from others, but his deduction skills are unmatched and his memory for minute details is unparalleled.
So when a spring thunderstorm uproots a tree in Madison Square Park, unearthing a crate with human remains inside, the best Cold Case detective is assigned the job. And when a death mask, like those prominent during the Victorian era, is found with the body, Larkin requests assistance from the Forensic Artists Unit and receives it in the form of Detective Ira Doyle, his polar opposite in every way.
Factual reasoning and facial reconstruction puts Larkin and Doyle on a trail of old homicide cases and a murderer obsessed with casting his victims’ likeness in death. Include some unapologetic flirting from Doyle, and this case just may end up killing Everett Larkin.
Two things that always make me think of C.S. Poe are New York and neurodiverse detectives. Even before knowing she lives in the city, I always felt a distinct vibe with how she writes about NY. She has also created sleuths who have narcolepsy and color-blindness.
Madison Square Murders is the first book of Memento Mori, a police procedural that introduces us to Detective Everett Larkin. Larkin has Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), a condition where his memory works like a Rolodex. It’s useful in investigations but a curse most of the time because he is doomed to recall past traumas in perfect detail.
The story opens with a skeleton unearthed under an uprooted tree in Madison Square Park. A death mask was found with the remains. This brought Larkin to a forensic artist, Detective Ira Doyle.
I was a bit hesitant to read this at first because I’m not too keen on reading a romance with the MC already in a relationship with another person, even if it’s a failing marriage. The author had partnered with Gregory Ashe in another series. I felt she took inspiration from some of his works by making Larkin already married and infusing the story with a hefty amount of angst and suffering.
Larkin is a very compelling character. He took it upon himself to investigate the thousands of cold cases in NY because he wanted the victims to be remembered. He knows exactly how many cases are there.
“Remembrance is the greatest act of love there is. Because… because no one is truly dead and gone, so long as someone remembers them.”
The story is told from his 3rd-person POV. His cold and blunt personality was one of the main things that drove the story. I felt empathetic because I could relate to the mental struggles and the lone wolf-ism. I felt sorry for him most of the time. I don’t dislike him, but I couldn’t say I actively liked him either.
Doyle is Larkin’s complete opposite. Friendly and very flirty, he always has a smile ready. And he’s way smarter than he lets on. He was so into Larkin from the get-go but took a step back when he realized the man was married. I liked how we see Doyle’s obvious attraction through Larkin’s aggressively objective perspective.
Not much to say about the romance because it is barely a romance at this point. Rightly so, or it would have been outright cheating. They had a thing where Doyle calls Larkin ‘work husband’. It’s cute, but I couldn’t squee yet cuz Larkin has an actual husband.
I liked how Larkin’s and Doyle’s abilities and personalities complemented each other, especially during the investigation. This book is very much about the mystery. It was super into the nitty-gritty of the police work that there was even a point where I tuned out. The amount of research for this must have been astounding. However, it grabbed me back into focus soon after a breakthrough. I was pretty much riveted after that. The story kept me in the dark right to the point Larkin realized who the killer was.
Objectively speaking, Madison Square Murders is a strong start to a very promising mystery series. It is a very well-written story with solid police procedural and fully flesh-out characters in complicated relationships. The stellar GR ratings are a testament to that.
Subjectively though, it’s difficult for me to write this review because I felt a nebulous meh-ness towards the book I’m struggling to articulate. It’s not the lack of romance because this one did a great job laying the groundwork for a future love story. I guess it’s pretty much how I feel about Larkin. Intense, emotional, compelling, intriguing, even magnetic, but not necessarily likable.
3 Stars – not exactly setting my world on fire but I liked it
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The series follows the same vein as Necessary Evils, where hired killers go on vigilante missions to right the wrongs. The first book, Bad Habits, set the stage through young hacker, Caspian, who has a bad crush on Jonah, the hitman who rescued and took him in from the streets. After being separated for six years, the two were reunited when a hit was called on Caspian.
The aftermath of the big showdown in Book 1 resulted in a dead pool. Assassins were invited to join. Among them, Jonah’s found family/friends, Madigan, Sadie, Ronan, retired killer Soren, and two other assassins they know by reputation. The rest of the books picked up the thread.
Below is a succinct a.k.a. can’t be arsed review of Book 1, Bad Habits, which can also be found here. I rated it 4-stars.
A sweet and steamy bad boys do right action suspense that made me want to eat pancakes.
This is a full review of the second and third book.
Wages Of Sin: Play Dirty – Onley James & Neve Wilder
“When you talk, chaos follows and I forget who I am.”
Madigan has spent his life indulging in the world’s most hedonistic pursuits, his skills as a sharpshooting killer-for-hire paying his way.
Azrael, an assassin referred to as the angel of death, is a chemist and a loner, his poisons as lethal as they are undetectable.
A chance encounter leads to a passionate night and a heated rivalry that spans years, but after they’re both offered a chance at big money by taking out elite targets on a mysterious hitlist, they find themselves once again in each other’s way. And then in each other’s arms.
Trust doesn’t come easily for either of them, but no matter how far they stray, fate always seems to pull them back together. In a profession where your partner is just as likely to kill you as kiss you, maybe trust is as close to love as they get?
Play Dirty is a steamy, action-packed thrill ride of a romance with a HEA and no cliffhangers. It features two stubborn rival assassins who can’t seem to stop tempting each other, a bit of knife play, a Die Hard-style Christmas, plenty of dark humor, and true love. Because even assassins deserve their soulmates. This is book 2 in the Wages of Sin series. Each book will follow a new couple.
Play Dirty was the book I was looking forward to the least because I didn’t like Madigan in Book 1. He and Jonah had a friends-with-benefits thing in the past. He’s a sneaky bastard who said mean things to Caspian. He made the young man run away from Jonah for six years. So I was pleasantly surprised that his book turned out to be my favorite.
Madigan and Azrael are bitter rivals. They had an ongoing competition where one tries to take down the other’s mark before the other got to them. Madigan is a sharpshooter, while Azrael specializes in poison and close combat.
The two met at a bar, scoping each other out because they were after the same mark. They went somewhere private, using names both of them knew full well were fakes. Then Madigan woke up the next day with Az gone, all his ammo taken and his mark dead. And that was the start of their little game.
What made this the best book was how CRAZY GOOD Maddie and Az were together. The way their connection formed and deepened was a brilliant execution of the enemies-to-lovers trope. It’s very apt that for a story about a chemist, the chemistry was perfect! Maddie and Az were fire and gasoline! Murder Husbands for the win!!!!!
I loved how the authors blended all the different aspects of the story. While giving us a deliciously intense romance, the plot is equally solid and hella engaging, moving things fast and suspenseful enough to keep the adrenaline pumping.
I’m tickled pink every time Az calls Maddie, “motek“. I plan to give the audiobook another go just to hear it again
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
Wages Of Sin: Head Games – Onley James & Neve Wilder
“You’re a vigilante in an argyle sweater.”
Straight-laced psychologist Tobias is an expert in the deviant behavior of others but a novice when it comes to his latest endeavor: serial killer.
After years of high-profile kills and mentoring numerous other assassins, laid-back Soren lives his life in a state of semi-permanent vacation. He comes out of an early retirement to help out a friend, only to set off sparks with the renowned psychologist when they discover they’re hunting the same man.
One shaky truce and a whole lot of blood later, Soren has a new mentee in Tobias.
Soren finds Tobias and his dark impulses fascinating. Tobias finds Soren’s relaxed attitude infuriating. They have nothing in common except their ability to kill and chemistry neither can deny. But a kill list, a rage room, the Irish mob and the ghosts of their past all stand in the way of their happily ever after.
Head Games is a steamy, thrill ride of a romance with a HEA and no cliffhangers. It features an uptight, sweater-loving psychologist with a taste for blood and a soft spot for his murderous yorkie, the most zen contract killer to ever mosey the earth, plenty of dark humor, and true love. Because even bad dudes deserve their soulmates. This is book 3 in the Wages of Sin series. Each book follows a different couple.
Head Games was the book I was looking forward to the most because I was super intrigued by the premise. Tobias, a psychiatrist specializing in psychopaths, decides to take justice into his own hands by indulging his psychopathic side. That is, try his hand at serial killing his patients. On his first attempt, he crosses paths with veteran killer, Soren, who is immediately drawn to the rookie.
Soren is a retired hitman and mentor of Jonah, Maddie, and Ronan. He comes out of retirement once in a while. He decides to show Toby the ropes and, in the process, proceeds to effortlessly fit himself into Toby’s carefully planned life.
Soren was compared to the main character in The Big Lebowski. And just like the movie where I enjoyed the story but didn’t like the MC, I wasn’t a fan of Soren. I didn’t feel his feelings towards Toby. His character was too one-dimensional. Also, he was described as not too keen on his hygiene which is blech!
I love the idea of Toby as a character. He was compared to Hannibal Lecter. Although, he would have stood out more strongly to me if his character was fully explored. And if his connection with Soren was more convincing.
Overall, I felt this book lacked a certain depth. The plot wasn’t as focused as the other books. It could have been going for an episodic, one kill per character growth thing while the romance develops, but the execution was flat. What kept me going was that I loved the rest of the boys. I only perked up at the appearance of my favorite Murder Husbands and Jonah and Cas.
2.5 Stars – far from hate but not quite a like
Two out of three hits for me so I still recommend this series. You can skip the 3rd book if you like. I’m hoping Ronan gets his own story.
Wages of Sin is best read in order because this found family of hired killers is a package deal. Start by finding out how good deeds turn into bad habits and vice versa, in Book 1, Bad Habits.
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Seasons Of The Lukoi: Winter Of The Owl – Iris Foxglove
Sava has the best house in all of Lukos. He built it himself, dreaming of the day when he and Milan, the man he loved, could live there and brave the harsh winters of Lukos together—only to be devastated when Milan was found dead in the spring. Fraught with grief, Sava resigns himself to spending his winters alone.
Then a stranger appears on his doorstep, and everything changes.
Victor is a scholar from Gerakia, a land known for its long summers and vibrant history, and he has never been more unprepared in his life. Abandoned on the inhospitable island of Lukos after a disastrous relationship, Victor has to adapt quickly to survive. It helps, of course, that he’s taken in by Sava, who has the biggest heart of any man Victor has ever known. Victor and Sava start to make a home together, growing close as snow falls outside, but the true danger of a Lukos winter is closer than they suspect…
Winter Of The Owl is the first book of the fantasy series, Seasons of the Lukoi. It is also my first from author duo, Iris Foxglove. I couldn’t have picked a better book to start with because I couldn’t get enough of the Cozy Husbands!
The series is set in the Starian world. Even if I haven’t read the other books, world-building is effortless and intuitive. It was easy to picture the cold, frigid island with its survivalist community.
Lukos is an island way up north. Not much is known about it by the rest of the world. It was built by exiles who established laws that helped them survive the harsh territory.
The Lukoi has a strong sense of community and family. They have their own unique culture heavily influenced by their environment. They are welcoming to those who were abandoned. They mate for life and are fiercely protective of children. Despite the toughness of their living conditions, I found Lukos almost like a utopia the way the Lukoi thrived and flourished.
Like the related series, Seasons of the Lukoi also has its people born as either dominant or submissive. Sava, being a dominant, is responsible for providing all the best that he can give to his potential mate, Milan. He did it so well, his house was considered the best house in Lukos.
But then, Milan died and he was left all alone in his very nice abode. One day, the kuvar, their leader, drags in a scholar they found on the beach and requests Sava to house the poor man. Thus begins a sweet and achingly tender love story built on mutual care and trust.
Victor is from sunny Gerakia. He is a beautiful, pure-hearted soul, a veritable “sweet summer child”. Cast aside by an abusive lover and left for dead, he still found joy and wonder everywhere he looked. I could practically see him lighting up at the sight of the first snowfall. His enthusiasm for learning is boundless.
Sava was so kind, attentive, and patient with Victor from the very beginning. He teaches him skills to survive winter. The man is a total sweetheart. He’s a selfless gentle giant who gives the adorkable scholar a ride on his back whenever the clumsy dork had a hard time navigating rocky paths.
I loved how they comfort each other and prop each other up whenever one is beset by insecurities. They helped the other rediscover their self-worth and find closure. Victor had to process the betrayal and the mean things his ex did. Sava had to deal with guilt over Milan’s death.
One of the best moments for me was when Sava, first time to see eyeglasses, asked Victor what those are for. “To make your pretty eyes look bigger?” Then, later in the story, noticing how Victor complains about them slipping, quietly ties a ribbon to keep them in place. The megane moe is strong!!! I love it! Especially when it was revealed Victor’s ex hated his glasses.
Sava and Victor are just too adorable!!! Then they adopted Speedy, the snowcat, who stole the show. I died from fluff overload!
There are some BDSM elements present. The authors wisely deployed them at a minimum. It kept the story’s vibe cozy and wholesome in harmony with Sava and Victor’s dynamics.
I loved how the book was written. It’s detailed yet easy to read. The characters were fully fleshed out. The relationships were given time to develop properly. The plot is deceptively straightforward, almost conflict-free. Most of it is Sava and Victor getting to know each other, enveloped in domestic bliss.
Far from feeling nothing is happening, we see Lukos coming alive through Victor’s fresh eyes. His openness and curiosity were contagious. He made me want to visit the island. It has a rich culture and a chockful of intriguing characters I’d love to know more.
The book has mentions of suicide and cultural misunderstanding of mental illness so take note of the CWs if they are triggering for you. This is in connection with Milan, which leads to a not-so-surprising twist and the suspenseful climax. The book nicely wraps up with Victor’s ex getting his comeuppance. I think they let him off too easily. They should’ve just dropped him in the sea.
Winter of the Owl is a feel-good, forced proximity story filled with kindness and affection. It’s about finding joy in the mundane and looking at the world with wonder. It’s about seeing the good in other people and rediscovering self-worth. Immersive, compelling, and hella squee-tastic, it may be set in the dead of winter but it certainly warms the heart.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
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Life Lesson – Kaje Harper
Mac’s three goals: keep Tony safe, catch the killer, don’t come out.
Tony Hart’s a dedicated teacher, though he’s not much older than his high-school students. Between his profession, a few good friends, and plenty of books, he’s content with his quiet life. Then the murdered body of another teacher falls into the elevator at his feet, and Tony’s life becomes all too exciting.
Jared MacLean is a homicide detective, widowed father to a young daughter, and deeply in the closet. But from the moment he meets Tony’s blue eyes in that high school hallway, Mac can’t help wanting this man in his life. Mac’s not out ― can’t afford to be out ― but Tony makes him want the impossible.
Mac isn’t the only one with their eyes on Tony, though. As the murderer tries to cover their tracks, Mac has to work fast or lose Tony, permanently.
(This is a rerelease of the 2011 original with light editing.)
I’ve seen Kaje Harper around ever since I started reading MM romance back in 2016. This is the first time I’ve read her books. Life Lessons is a great introduction to her works. The book kicks off the series of the same name.
Young high school teacher, Tony Hart, was about to step out of the elevator when the body of another teacher crashes into him with a knife sticking out of its chest. Police were called and along comes Detective Jared Maclean and his teammates to investigate.
Mac is deep in the closet for fear of losing his 4-year-old daughter, Anna. His resolve to stay there was tested by the attractive and openly gay teacher who was also a person of interest. Mac found himself finding reasons to see the younger man. Tony is ready to have the detective if only the older man would let himself. Then, the killer made another move. This time, Tony was the target.
This is a police procedural. But unlike most procedurals where the MC is the lead detective and seems to do all the work, Mac’s partner, Oliver, is the lead. The detectives worked as a team and the others were shown taking an active part in the investigation. I liked this a lot because it felt more realistic.
The mystery wasn’t anything mindboggling. You can tell who the bad guy is the minute they went on-page. Still, it’s intriguing enough for me to feel invested and complicated enough to make following the investigation worthwhile and enjoyable.
The plot seamlessly interweaves the mystery and the romance. I really liked how this was done. It brought Mac and Tony together in a way that felt organic to both the case and their budding relationship. It’s a slow-burn, hurt-comfort romance with an ever-patient Tony encouraging Mac to enjoy life a little more even if it’s only from his closet.
I loved that we get characters who are just regular joes going about their daily lives. Mac and Tony felt real and relatable. They make a compelling couple. I especially loved how they were working hard to make it work. I also greatly appreciated how they avoided the usual drama, something that could have easily happened given the closeted cop premise. And yet, even without the dramatics, this was an emotional story.
I wasn’t sure at first if I would enjoy a gay romance where one of the MCs is deeply closeted throughout several books in the series. I thought I would feel negative about Mac for hiding his relationship with Tony, but the story did a good job making you feel for the guy. I totally got where he was coming from and that he was making the effort. Seeing his character grow bit by bit as the story progressed made me root hard for him. Someday, Mac. Someday.
Tony was super understanding. I felt sad he had to make sacrifices, a bit too much IMHO, but it was pretty clear that Mac’s heading in the right direction in that HFN ending. He’s definitely worth the wait!
The author found the perfect audiobook narrator in J.F. Harding. He brought the story to life in such an engaging way I was glued to my earbuds right to the end.
Life Lessons was published in 2011. They did a good job with the slight re-editing because the story still felt current. It’s not without flaws and it features frequently-used tropes, but it’s so well-written, it still comes across as fresh and exciting. All in all, this teacher/cop romance with extra-curricular murder mystery gets a grade of 4.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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