Magic & Steam: The Gangster – C.S. Poe
1881—Special Agent Gillian Hamilton, magic caster for the Federal Bureau of Magic and Steam, has recovered from injuries obtained while in Shallow Grave, Arizona. Now back in New York City, Gillian makes an arrest on New Year’s Eve that leads to information on a gangster, known only as Tick Tock, who’s perfected utilizing elemental magic ammunition. This report complicates Gillian’s holiday plans, specifically those with infamous outlaw, Gunner the Deadly, who promised they’d ring in 1882 together.
The two men stand on the cusp of a romance that needs to be explored intimately and privately. But when Gillian’s residence is broken into by a magical mechanical man who tries to murder him on behalf of Tick Tock, he and Gunner must immediately investigate the city’s ruthless street gangs before the illegal magic becomes a threat that cannot be contained.
This might be their most wild adventure yet, but criminal undergrounds can’t compare to the dangers of the heart. Gillian must balance his career in law enforcement with his love for a vigilante, or lose both entirely.
The novel-length follow-up to The Engineer, in the exciting new steampunk series, Magic & Steam.
The Gangster is, hands down, C.S. Poe‘s best work to date. I was so blown away by this book! How is this not a movie already??!!
For me, the Magic & Steam series is very cinematic. Not just story-wise, it would also look really gorgeous on screen. The world-building is a steampunk dream! For the first book, The Engineer, it was a clockwork version of the Wild West, complete with dashing outlaws and their aether-powered guns and evil geniuses with fantastically rigged out battle tanks.
For The Gangster, the author reimagined 1881 New York into a magically-run city where instead of subways trains, we get a Grand Central Depot that is a sixteen-story terminal for airships. I can see this as a breath-taking panoramic shot when Gillian goes there to meet Gunner.
It’s not just the technology and the setting. The atmosphere was electric, the people felt real. The writing took me to an alt-Victorian New York that lives and breathes.
This is a world where magic users undergo mandatory regulation documentation. The Federal Bureau of Magic & Steam oversees the usage of magic. There are three kinds of people in the magic community. There are scholars who study magic, architects who fabricated the spells and casters, like Gillian, who perform them. Magic created by machines is illegal because it goes against the natural order, hence, it is extremely unpredictable and volatile.
It’s New Year’s Eve and Gillian eagerly awaits Gunner’s arrival to make good on their promise to ring in the New Year together. Earlier that evening, the federal agent was hot on the tail of a gangster who was using illegal magic. This gave him the name of a mysterious new player in the scene, Tick-Tock, who was stirring up trouble in the Five Points. There is no rest for our poor caster because as soon as Gunnar arrives, things went boom!
And so off they go to uncover Tick-Tock’s identity and his evil agenda, crossing paths with bullying co-workers, mechanical men, machine-made magic and grotesque abominations.
If I thought Gillian was already using high-level magic before, well, he just went nuclear. The fight scenes were beyond AWESOME!!! This part alone was enough to earn the book 5 stars. Add to that a gripping case that kept me glued and two fascinating characters that were so damn perfect for each other.
I first thought, Gunner was a mystery. We still don’t know much about him. But turns out, Gillian was the bigger puzzle to solve. He’s a bit unreliable as a narrator. We constantly learn more things about him as we go along. Everything is told from Gillian’s first person POV. You can really feel his emotions jumping off the page and boy, did I feel for the guy.
Our boy tends to be too hard on himself. He is a lonely man who oh so badly craves love but thinks himself unworthy because sees himself a monster. He is spectacularly unaware of his own appeal, bemoans his chibi stature and has absolutely no gaydar whatsoever. I thought he was a pushover but this well-spoken little man has quite a temper. When Gillian unleashes his fury, he’s one magnificent, scary motherfucker!
I also naively thought him a bad liar but holy heck, he was actually lying through his teeth all this time! All in the name of survival. Because our dear Special Agent Gillian Hamilton has some very dark secrets. I love him!!!
Gunner The Deadly is his complete opposite. He is exactly what Gillian wants. And what he wants to be. The outlaw makes no apologies about who he is. He never lies. Tall, handsome, confident, perceptive and virtually unflappable, his calm automatically shatters the moment Gillian is in danger. I loved how he gently taught the younger man about intimacy and affection. I loved how he sees Gillian, really see him. It’s through the outlaw’s uncannily sharp observations that we get glimpses of how things really are. It is through these that the troubled agent is forced to be honest with himself.
The two men are constantly out and about so the quiet moments are rare and precious. Gillian cherished them like the treasures they are as his connection with Gunner grew deeper. These scenes are so pure!
I cleared my throat. “There’s something to be said for a well-built man.” I looked up at Gunner again. He was staring at me. “You’ve been eyed up and down no fewer than half a dozen times since we entered.”
He nodded a fraction, like he was already quite aware.
“And the man behind me at the bar intends to bring a beer to you.”
Gunner’s gaze flicked in that direction but didn’t linger. “You’re quite observant when the attention isn’t focused on you.”
Sweat prickled under my arms. I shrugged, trying to appear casual, but I’m sure I looked, if anything, manic. “Perhaps… territorial, is more correct.”
That made the corners of Gunner’s eyes crinkle. “It’s rather too fish-in-a-barrel for me. I enjoy making eye contact with a man across a tavern. Getting that swell in your gut, like the ground has fallen out from under you.”
I tried to swallow, but my throat was parched—dry like animal bones bleaching in the desert sun. “Like you’ve been pinned to the wall.”
Gunner took one step closer to me. “And you realize you share a tendency.”
“Now you’ve got to put it into words.”
Another step. “When it’s right, you don’t need words.”
The Gangster took off at a running start. Quite literally too. It never let down the pace until the very end, where it dropped one hell of a cliffhanger. The events took place only a couple of days but even with things going fast, all the various plotlines were brilliantly executed. Everything came together beautifully. It went all out with the action, the suspense, the mystery, the imagery and the magic while delivering a wonderful romance that is as tender as it is spine-tingling. THIS is exactly how you cast a spell on a reader!
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
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The Venetian And The Rum Runner – L.A. Witt
New York City, 1924
Once their paths cross, their worlds will never be the same.
Danny Moore and his crew only meant to rob the hotel suites of rich guests. He wasn’t supposed to find himself in gangster Ricky il Sacchi’s room. And il Sacchi wasn’t supposed to wind up dead. Now Danny has the attention of another notorious gangster.
Carmine Battaglia is intrigued by the Irish thieves who would have made off with a huge score if not for il Sacchi’s death. They’re cunning, careful, and exactly what he needs for his rum running operation. But Danny’s already lost two brothers to the violence between New York’s Irish and Sicilian gangs, and he’s not about to sell his soul to Carmine.
With a gangster’s blood on his hands, Danny needs protection, whether he likes it or not. And that’s to say nothing of the generous pay, which promises to pull him and his crew—not to mention their families—out of destitution.
Working together brings Danny and Carmine to a détente, then to something so intense neither can ignore it. Something nearly enough to make them both forget the brutal tensions between their countrymen.
But the death of Ricky il Sacchi hasn’t been forgotten. And someone is determined to make Danny bleed for it.
The Venetian and the Rum Runner is a 144,000-word gay historical romantic suspense novel set during Prohibition and the Roaring Twenties.
CW: graphic violence, PTSD
The Venetian and the Rum Runner is a historical mafia novel set in the Prohibition era. This is different from L.A. Witt‘s usual contemporary offerings but it has her trademark style of making the MCs go through hoops of fire before giving them their very hard-earned happy endings.
The story brings together two men who were traditionally enemies. Danny Moore, leader of a gang of Irish thieves, found himself a wanted man when he inadvertently killed an Italian mobster. Having heard of the incident and duly impressed with the gang’s ingenuity in pulling off their heist (also grateful for reasons later revealed) Carmine Battaglia sought out the gang to hire them for rum running in exchange for his protection.
Understandably, Danny and his gang wanted nothing to do with it at first. Italian mobsters were the reason Danny’s brothers were dead. Until pressing needs forced his hand and he reluctantly accepted the job. And so begins a very profitable business relationship and a simmering attraction that neither men expected.
This is a long book. It took me a while to get into the first few chapters of the story but the rich atmosphere and the authentic vibe kept me hooked. I loved the 1920s setting. The writing effortlessly took me to that glamorous era of smoky speakeasies and creative alcohol consumption.
There was a whole lot of black market items being moved around because people were thirsty and thirsty people were desperate. Alcohol was prescribed as “medicine”. People disguise the stuff in tea cups. Hidden compartments and escape hatches were at the ready in case of a raid. These parts alone were super interesting. It was pretty well-researched. The rich historical details really made the 1920s come alive.
I had fun reading about the various clever schemes Danny and his gang came up with for their rum running activities. The story did a good job providing ample page-time for the lads. Although I must say that the best character is Danny’s bestfriend, James the priest. He gave the most sensible advise I’ve ever heard from a priest. There’s also a twist involving him that I never, ever expected. I hope he gets his own story because this holy man has a lot to tell.
The romance was a slow, slow burning flame, full of longing looks and heated gazes that you can FEEL from across the room. In an age of secrecy and circumspection, the two would be like, “am I just seeing what I wanted to see?“. And I wanted to scream, yes, he IS looking at you like that!
Danny and Carmine kept it strictly business for most of their interactions. But the tension between them was so palpable, had there been a third person in the room, they would certainly have no doubts about what these two men wanted.
This had dual POV but I felt it was more Danny’s story than Carmine’s. Carmine spent most of the time in his office. He had no qualms doing business with Irishmen. He was also accepting of his attraction to Danny from the get go. There wasn’t much development to his character but I liked him all the same.
It was Danny who had the most progression. He had to deal with his remaining brother who disapproved of his chosen path. He had to fight his attraction to an Italian. He had to reconcile with his core beliefs. When he did, he made the first move. That scene! I had to hold my breath because it was a beautiful wordless declaration done so excruciatingly slow and careful and gentle and sweet.
Later on, the story took a tragic turn and stakes were raised even higher. This is what I loved most about L.A. Witt. She always creates these no way out scenarios that seem virtually impossible for her boys to get out of, much more, have a happy ending. Then she would have them pull off these daring, deadly maneuvers where they escape by the skin of their teeth.
Danny and Carmine did just that and even found a way to be together. Although I wasn’t as satisfied with the resolution as I would have liked. It was a realistic HFN, given the time period and the situation but I couldn’t help wishing for something different, perhaps something with less goodbyes.
According to the author, The Venetian and The Rum Runner was inspired by a conversation with Michael Ferraiuolo. He’s also the one who narrated it. He is my all time favorite narrator and he really poured all his talents in bringing the characters and their accents to life! His bad guy voices were especially nastily good. I definitely recommend experiencing this fabulous intoxicating historical in audiobook form.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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A Way With You – Lane Hayes
Reeve Nelson is determined to make it in Manhattan. He’s hardworking, dedicated and willing to put in the extra hours required to be successful at his new job at a prestigious real estate firm in the city. There’s no way he’s going back to small-town living and an ex-girlfriend who won’t let go. But his boss isn’t making it easy.
Leo Rodriguez enjoys his reputation as a ruthless businessman. He’s a lone wolf who’s scraped his way from the gutter to rebuild his life and launch a distinguished career on his terms. When an opportunity to expand in the market comes up, Leo wants the eager new agent with a sense of wonder on the project. But nothing goes quite as planned. Reeve expected to be intimidated and overwhelmed by Leo, however, the explosive mutual attraction and fierce desire between them is a big surprise. Neither man is looking for love and yet, something special just might happen if they can find their way…together.
A Way With You is the sequel to A Way With Words, starring Remy’s big brother, Reeve. This book could be read as a standalone but I recommend reading Remy and Tony’s book first because why miss out on this adorable couple?
A Way With You started strong. We meet Reeve in his first day of work. He just learned he was to work with real estate celebrity, Leo Rodriguez, a man who has a reputation as a tough as nails boss.
He was assigned to a challenging assignment which led to butting heads with Leo where he quickly lost his temper. To end his last day at work with a bang, he kissed his boss.
Then he disappeared.
Between the Nelson brothers, Reeve had the more mercurial temper whereas Remy was the more easy-going one. The brothers are very supportive of each other, constantly checking in to see how the other is doing. Their relationship was one of the highlights of the book.
I didn’t warm up to Reeve much. I didn’t hate him but I didn’t like him either. We could all do without the tantrums. What’s admirable about him though was that he’s brave enough to quit a 6-figure job and carve his own path in life. He doesn’t even mind that he had to start from scratch all over again.
Leo was the stand out here. I wished we had his POV. When we first met him, he appeared cold and aloof. The kind of personality you would expect in a terror boss.
It was when we meet him again, this time outside the office, we could see he’s a genial, warm-hearted guy who offers sofa cuddles and lends his underwear to the under-dressed.
I loved the way he doggedly pursued Reeve’s company. Not taking no for an answer but never pushy. He consistently kept a cool head whenever Reeve threw his tantrums. Best of all, he followed his love declarations with actions. Truly a keeper!
While I liked both books in the A Way With series, I enjoyed this a notched less than the first book. It has the same feel-good charm as its predecessor and I was having a good time with most of it. After the big scene at the office, I was led to believe this was going to be conflict-free but alas childish behavior reared its ugly head.
Reeve’s infamous temper flared up at the latter part of the story where, although in keeping with character, resulted in a rather ridiculous fight scene. I wasn’t particularly impressed with this moment. I felt it was thrown in just so there would be conflict.
Nonetheless, Leo’s winning ways saved the day, cartwheel fails and all.
Narration-wise, Alexander Cendese continued to do a good job giving life to all these colorful characters. While the voices are not that different from each other, he was still able to imbue distinct personalities to each so it’s wasn’t difficult to recognize who’s speaking at the moment. His reading style was appropriately energetic in keeping with the vibe of the book.
All in all, A Way With You was an enjoyable office romance story that happened mostly outside the office. It’s also about following your dreams and doing it your way. Because trying to making it big in the Big Apple is a hell lot easier if you got friends, family and the right boss to kiss.
Thank you to Indigo and Audible UK for giving me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Book one, A Way With You, review here.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
A Way With Words – Lane Hayes
Tony De Luca is a simple guy. He works for his uncle’s Brooklyn-based construction firm. And he knows from experience that keeping his head down and doing his job is the best way to deal with the meddlesome family members he sees daily. They think he’s quiet and maybe a little awkward but the truth is more complicated. Tony has a secret he isn’t ready or willing to share. He’s an expert at avoiding familial scrutiny. At least he was until the sexy guitar player showed up.
Remy Nelson is a small-town, free-spirited guy looking for a new life in the big city. He stays busy playing his instrument on a busy Manhattan street corner during the day and bartending at night. Remy is more interested in finding steady employment than a mate, but he can’t deny his attraction to the dreamy construction worker with soulful eyes, a kind heart, and a unique way with words. Falling for Remy wasn’t what Tony expected, but keeping him will require courage. And an end to keeping secrets.
A Way With Words is about a man trying to find the courage to come out to his family. I have read many variations of this trope before but Lane Hayes pulled off a very endearing, feel good version that made me smile a lot.
MCs Tony and Remy were fantastic together! The first time they met, they hit it off immediately. From then on, it was a very sweet development with the two men being 100% honest and supportive of each other. I really loved that there were no conflicts and no judgement between them. They talked things through and listened.
Tony is an interesting combination of closed-mouth and talkative. He came from a large, loud Italian family who’s always up in each other’s business. This includes matchmaking attempts with women from the neighborhood.
Tony described himself as being one of the quieter ones who gets tongue-tied every time he tries to open up about his sexuality. But when he’s with Remy, that’s when he shines the brightest. He completely lets loose and says the sweetest, most romantic things in his own inimitable way. He did it so naturally without sounding cheesy.
Remy was a joy! He had a laidback charm and a contagious smile that I felt right off the audiobook. I loved how patient and understanding he was with Tony, when he knew Tony was not ready to come out. No demands, no hissy fits. Just there when he’s needed.
This is my first Alexander Cendese narration and he won me over with his style. He voiced Tony with just the right amount of exuberance and captured Remy’s lovable personality to a T. Definitely will listen to more audiobooks by him.
A Way With Words is a solid contemporary romance short. It’s a low-angst story filled with good food and happy people. Recommended for light reading moods and pick-me-up moments.
Thank you to Indigo and Audible UK for giving me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
A Way With Words is the first book of the A Way With series. Review of book 2, A Way With You, soon.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
New York Admirals captain Scott Hunter takes his pregame rituals very seriously. In this case, it’s not just a lucky smoothie he’s craving—it’s the man who made it.
Pro hockey star Scott Hunter knows a good thing when he sees it. So, when a smoothie made by juice bar barista Kip Grady precedes Scott breaking his on-ice slump, he’s desperate to recreate the magic…and to get to know the sexy, funny guy behind the counter.
Kip knew there was more to Scott’s frequent visits than blended fruit, but he never let himself imagine being invited back to Scott’s penthouse. Or kissed with reckless abandon, never mind touched everywhere all at once. When it happens it’s red-hot, incredible and frequent, but also only on Scott’s terms and always behind his closed apartment doors.
Scott needs Kip in his life, but with playoff season approaching, the spotlight on him is suddenly brighter than ever. He can’t afford to do anything that might derail his career…like introducing the world to his boyfriend. Kip is ready to go all-in with Scott—but how much longer will he have to remain a secret?
A very cute meet-cute with a huge dollop of steam and just enough angst to keep you from sugar coma.
Game Changer is the first book of the fantastic Game Changers series by Rachel Reid. The series features hockey players falling in love in and out of the rink. I read the second book, Heated Rivalry, beforehand which I absolutely adored so I was very motivated to read the first book too.
I wasn’t disappointed.
This is almost as charming as book 2. The story is totally different. Whereas the second book was about two rival hockey players falling in love with each other, Gamer Changer was about Scott Hunter, a closeted team captain of the New York Admirals, dropping by a smoothie cafe, bought a lucky blueberry smoothie and quickly fell in love with the barista, Kip Grady.
The two men had instant attraction and threw off sparks that were pretty obvious to any bystander. However they had to keep their relationship a secret because it might ruin Scott’s career. To Kip, it felt like going back to the closet.
As mentioned above, things were all sorts of warm fuzzy feels and sweetness. Also, too much smexy scenes that could have been edited out but that’s the honeymoon period for you. As is usually the case with contemporary romance/rom-com, once reality sets in and Kip started having niggles about being the dirty secret, you brace yourself for the Big Fight, which did happen. The two men both seemed like sensible level-headed guys so I had hopes it wouldn’t. Then again, Scott is a sweetheart and so is Kip and they patched things up after a brief falling out.
That’s not all.
The ending was everything a romantic at heart could ever hope for. A grand gesture by way of the Stanley Cup and here I am just an ‘eyewitness’ and I was giddy and exhilarated and melting softly from all the heartwarming fluff-tastic fluff! Can you imagine what Scott and Kip must feel?
Even if the book followed a typical romance story pattern, it would be the kind that easily becomes a favorite reread. I loved the two MCs and the secondary characters were well-fleshed out (and hella funny too). I gave a little hurrahs every time Rozanov appears. The author kept things fresh, fast-paced and very engaging. Even with all the bedroom play, the plot had a strong narrative to carry it through. All in all, good job, Rachel Reid!
Game Changers is a very apt name for the series because it changed the way I feel about about sports romance. I had sworn I will never read anything sports-related (hah! famous last words) and now here I am eager to delve into more sports-rom. At least if hockey players are involved.
I wished Hollywood would pick the books up and make them into a movie. We all could use a feel-good gay sports-rom and Game Changers could be that breakout hit the genre needs.
Make it happened, Hollywood! I mean, seriously, think of all the awesome memes and tumblr posts you can generate if you get two cute hockey players to kiss each other.
Heated Rivalry review here.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
Hexworld: Hexhunter – Jordan L. Hawk
Detective Bill Quigley fell in love with the familiar Isaac the night they met. But after more than two years, it’s time to admit to himself that Isaac doesn’t return his feelings.
Isaac knows he’s too broken by his experiences for anyone to fall in love with. Especially someone like Bill, who deserves a partner unplagued by Isaac’s nightmares and doubts.
When children go missing from an orphanage, Bill and Isaac must work together to find them. And as years of yearning threaten to ignite into passion, they must decide once and for all whether to take a chance on love.
Hexworld is a brilliant Jordan L. Hawk creation set in alternate New York run by hexes and magic is channeled through a combination of witches and familiars. Any witch and familiar may bond but the strongest magic comes from the bonding of a fated familiar and witch pair. There are three books and some novellas released so far, each couple bringing their own unique dynamics. I loved all the stories!
Hexhunter stood out for having a witch and familiar pair not fated to each other. In this world, familiars have the raw end of the deal, forced to bond with a witch or not even considered human. In book one, Hexbreaker, we learned Isaac was treated horribly by his fated witch and he was forced to quit the Metropolitan Witch Police. He was later forced bonded with another, kept imprisoned in his mastiff form and drained of magic. He was rescued by Tom and Cicero with the help of Bill Quigley, who quickly fell in love with Isaac.
Isaac and Bill slow-burned their way through several books and every Hexworld fan has been waiting for their moment. After several books, the plot has gotten a bit predictable but I don’t really mind. I’ve been rooting for these two.
The familiar has PTSD and the book dealt with Isaac’s journey to recovery. Because of past abuses, he is slow to trust and thinks he is tainted because his magic is drawn to bad men. He constantly puts himself down and considers himself unworthy. Bless Bill and his big heart! He was exactly what Isaac needs. With infinite patience and a lot of TLCs, he showed Isaac his true worth. Theirs was the softest romance of them all. Those years finally paid off!
Isaac ran his hand lightly over Bill’s chest. “Worth the wait?”
“Aye.” Bill kissed Isaac’s hair. “ Worth everything.”
The abuse of familiars and the desire to control them has been the main conflict in the series. This book once again tackled this threat. The big bad villain who remained unseen and only spoken in secret, masterminded a plot of manipulating familiar forms with hexes. Children from the orphanage were kidnapped and thought to be subjected to this inhumane treatment. As with other JLH books (e.g. Whyborne & Griffin), long lost relatives were not to be trusted and some parental units are just not worth it.
The world-building is top-notched as usual and skillfully interwoven with actual historical events and mythological stories, that of the 1900s archaeological excavations in Knossos and the story of the Minotaur. I love how this part was put into good use in the climax. Bill blindly running around in the dark, creepy noises, monsters lurking, all classic edge of your seat fun.
A big hoorah for all the appearances of the rest of the gang, Tom and Cicero, Owen and Mal (my favorite couple), Nick and Jamie, and Dominic and Rook. Of course, Cicero and his big mouth stole the show in every scene he is in. He got Isaac in trouble once again, this time causing friction between Isaac and Sionn, an owl familiar and Isaac’s officemate, who was also interested in Bill. Sionn’s a good guy so I hope he gets his own book and *fingers crossed* it’s him and Valentine, the journalist.
All too often, Hexworld magic is blind and connects a familiar and witch seemingly at random. Unlike the other books where it plays a pivotal role in the pairing, Hexhunter is about healing and making a choice. Because sometimes, it’s better to choose a good witch than the right witch.
Magic ain’t everything .
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits