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    SERIES REVIEW: Panopolis Books 1 & 2 by Cari Z

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    Panopolis: Where There’s Smoke – Cari Z

    Panopolis is a rough place to be an average Joe. I came here looking for adventure and excitement, but nobody cares about one more normal guy in a city filled with super-powered heroes. The closest I’ve come to glory is working in a bank that villains often rob.

    But then I maybe accidentally-on-purpose helped a villain escape the hero who was trying to save the day. Imagine my shock when, a week later, that villain asked me out for coffee. One date turned into more, and now I’m head over heels in love with Raul.

    Falling in love with the guy dubbed the Mad Bombardier isn’t without its downsides, though. I’ve had to deal with near-death encounters with other villains, awkwardly flirtatious heroes who won’t take no for an answer, and a lover I’m not sure I can trust. It’s getting to the point where I know I’ll have to make a choice: side with the heroes, or stand fast by my villain.

    Either way, I think my days as a normal guy are over.

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    Panopolis: Where There’s Fire – Cari Z

    Making a name for myself as a Villain in Panopolis is hard work. Six months ago, my boyfriend broke me out of jail. Now he’s spending most of his time defending our turf against other Villains he accidentally freed along with me. And my new psychic powers are not only impossible to control, but they’re also giving me migraines.

    But it’s not all doom and gloom. My skills are improving every day, and Raul—aka the Mad Bombardier—and I have never been happier. That is, until my first solo job is interrupted by a mysterious woman who tells me that Raul has been kidnapped by a ruthless new Villain. The only way to free him is to do a job for Maggot, a man with scary ideas and an even scarier superpower.

    I can’t go to the cops or a Hero for help. Odds are they wouldn’t listen to me anyway. If I fail, Raul will be killed. If I succeed, we’ll both be bound to a man who’ll stop at nothing to put Panopolis on the path to civil war.

    It looks like the only way to win is to take out the competition.

    When I was working as an ESL tutor, my Japanese student and I talked about anime. I told him I was almost always fascinated with the villains and asked why anime stories usually show the villain’s backstory. I asked because most western cartoons don’t do that. He told me it was because the Japanese believe an enemy today could be a friend tomorrow.

    Panopolis by Cari Z is a great example of of the shifting lines between villainy and heroism. Sometimes, it’s a matter of perspective. This underrated series deconstructs the superhero and supervillain tropes.

    I came into this thinking I would get a cartoonish, comical romp, something along the lines of Despicable Me or The Incredibles. I got a dark, sinister tale of highly unethical science, mind control and oppression, torture and terrorism, politics and conspiracies, and the collateral damage that is conveniently ignored in the name of saving the day.

    Panopolis is a mega-city with an unusually high number of supers. Time-honored tradition dictates it’s always heroes vs. villains. The good guys have corporate sponsorships and all the perks. The baddies are mostly after money and make the heroes look good. The fights get a lot of tv coverage, usually as entertainment.

    Where There’s Smoke opens the series with a bank heist by one of the city’s most notorious villains, The Mad Bombardier. It happens to be the bank where Edward Dingle works. He’s a kind, mild-mannered guy. So kind he couldn’t resist covertly helping the very villain robbing his bank because he saw The Mad Bombardier needed a hand.

    Intrigued, The Mad Bombardier, a.k.a. Raul, sought Edward out again. Their first date was cute! They eventually started dating. The story breezed through the early parts of their relationship and fast-forwarded to them being an established couple.

    Raul is a total sweetheart, and his costume is supercool! He became a bomb expert due to a rather atypical upbringing. He wears a helmet with numbers counting down. It looks ominous, but it’s actually his little joke. He’s also the only top villain with no body count under his belt so far.

    Book 1 is a 2-hour audiobook, so the plot moved fast. The story is told from the 1st-person POV of Edward, tackling the moral dilemma and the consequences of dating a supervillain. It shakes an already precarious situation by having that supervillain’s superhero nemesis crushing on Edward and persistently asking him out. Edward is also slowly learning what those corporate sponsorships really entail.

    I love how the story blurs the lines. Along with Edward, we question who is the hero? Who is the villain? Who is the criminal? Who is the victim? And who the hell is really in charge? This novella laid out a fantastic foundation for the follow-up. It’s best to have the next book on hand before starting this because the ending turned Edward’s world upside down. You’ll be grabbing that sequel immediately!

    Where There’s Fire picks up on the aftermath of all those explosions. This is where those foreboding thoughts about Panopolis became harsh reality. What was only hinted at and glimpsed in the periphery came out in the open when Edward and Raul met with the villains. It’s where the series became truly dark.

    It’s also the part where I was seriously torn. One hand, I felt sorry for these villains because of what they had gone through. It was pretty nasty! I also understood their cause, their fight to right the wrongs done to their ilk. But then, them being what they are, they get a little too Machiavellian. Poor Raul had to suffer for it!

    This is the part where Edward embraced who he really was. How he saved Raul was brilliantly executed! It’s like the man conquered the city by making people feel and being his kind self. He was awesome!!!

    This is longer than the 1st book, so things were more fleshed out. The tension is tight throughout the story. The suspense ratcheted up several notches when our boy Edward took on the entire city. Edward’s trick on the boss fight scene was super clever!

    I tried not to give too many details here because it’s best to go in knowing only the minimum details. The Cari Z books I’ve read are those she has written with L.A. Witt. I need to read more of her solo works, as well, because she’s a very talented writer. I could tell she really knows her stuff when it comes to supers.

    Panopolis is the perfect example of that. It is an action-packed, sometimes sweet, thought-provoking, and uniquely fascinating take on heroes and villains. A potent reminder that with great powers comes great headaches.

    5 Stars – absolutely perfect

    Soundtrack: Villains
    Artist: Delta Spirit
    Album: One Is One

    5 Stars – absolutely perfect

    Soundtrack: How Villains Are Made
    Artist: Madelen Duke
    Album: Talking To Myself

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    Where There’s Smoke: US | UK
    Where There’s Fire: US | UK

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    REVIEW: Taking His Confession by P.J. Friel & Saffron Hart

    Cloth & Stone: Taking His Confession – P.J. Friel & Saffron Hart

    Sparks fly when a man of the cloth teams up with a cursed creature of stone to save a troubled teen from a ruthless drug lord. 

    Gideon Fawkes longs to meet the handsome young deacon who teaches at St. Anthony’s Boys Academy. There’s just one problem. Gideon is a gargoyle, and he’s pretty sure Deacon Cruz only dates humans.

    Cordero Cruz knows a lot about forgiveness. It’s the cornerstone of his calling. Too bad he can never offer it to himself. Because of him, people died, and there’s no redemption for that kind of mistake.

    But a lack of humanity and a heart filled with guilt are nothing compared to a young man’s life. When a merciless criminal threatens Cordero and one of his students, Gideon will have to risk more than his stony hide to protect them. Cordero must do the unthinkable to prove he’s deserving of the gargoyle turned guardian angel. But when their road to hell is paved with good intentions, they must learn only trust and redemption can pave the way for love.

    Among the various supernatural boyfriends found in paranormal romance, gargoyles are a rarity. The Cloth & Stone series immediately grabbed my attention because of its gargoyle MC.

    Taking His Confession opens the series from the 1st person POV of Deacon Cordero Cruz. He just saw the little brother of his late best friend talking to the city’s most notorious mob boss. Alarmed, he tried to get answers from the young man and learned he owed the mobsters a huge sum of money for a failed drug run. Money they couldn’t afford, barely having any to support his mom and siblings.

    Unknown to the people in St. Anthony’s, a watcher sat perched on its rooftops. Gideon Fawkes was cursed to be a gargoyle for almost a century. He has a special interest in the young deacon. Special enough for him to break cover when mobsters were out to get the Cordero.

    I have had this on my TBR since last year. I was hesitant to start on this because I usually steer clear of religion-themed books. Cordero’s internal dialogues are examples of why I do.

    Most of it boils down to “I am not worthy. I don’t deserve to be happy.” I wasn’t too keen on the self-flagellation, but happily, the authors managed to avoid crossing over to miserable. They were still able to let Cordero’s brighter personality shine through.

    And Cordero might angst over his so-called unworthiness, but there was no angsting over his sexuality. I loved that he was totally comfortable with it and had no hesitations about sleeping with Gideon.

    The deacon is the kind of man who bears all the world’s troubles on his shoulders. A selfless individual who prays for everyone else’s well-being except for himself. It’s why he stood out among the sea of prayers that the gargoyle hears everyday.

    Gideon used to be a rum runner back in the 1920s. He turned into a gargoyle one day after committing a crime. I found some of his thoughts on a divine being echoing some of my own. I wondered why he still believed. But then, turning into a stone at sunrise and back into a man by sunset is divine punishment if ever there was one.

    The plot interweaves the romantic development of Cordero and Gideon’s relationship with that of them teaming up to to protect Cordero’s students from the mobsters. Cordero and Gideon are compelling characters who very effectively drove the story forward, sweeping me along effortlessly with their woes and insecurities, joys and triumphs, and the occasional streak of humor. Usually from Gideon. I love this gargoyle! His POV is more fun than Cordero’s.

    The romance was sweet. I would even say it was kinda cute. It was a tender and fragile relationship filled with fears, misunderstanding, and also, love. Alas, it imploded after Gideon’s ridiculous decision to storm the mob boss’s mansion by himself without careful reconnaissance.

    Cordero was a complete mess for a while there, plus an even more ridiculous decision by Gideon to push the love of his life away. Fortunately, the two came to their senses and started working together for real. The story moved faster at this point, more action-packed and suspenseful with lotsa things going bang!

    Even with the negative thoughts and the bad decisions, Taking His Confession is a well-written book that kept me riveted. It ends with a cliffy HFN, so it’s best read when you have all three books on hand. This dramatic tale of the deacon and his gargoyle boyfriend is dark and full of heartache, but it’s also sweet, even hopeful, and most definitely gripping.

    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

    Soundtrack: Holy Trouble
    Artist: Christian Cohle
    Album: Holy Trouble

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