Here are the rules:
Take your current read and compare it to what you reading this exact time last year. Which one do you like better? What is different about the books? Any special facts/things you want to make note of or bring attention to?
This meme was created by Reading Marie. It’s a great meme because it’s nice and easy to do.
This meme was created by Reading Marie. It’s a great meme because it’s nice and easy to do.
Down Home: Down Low – Parker St. John
His broken bones could finally mend their broken bond…
Bull riding was the only thing that calmed the thrill-seeking, self-destructive beast inside of Calvin Craig. It allowed him to escape a small-minded town and the pain of his troubled youth, fleeing to bright lights and big city fame without looking back.
One trip on the horns of the wrong bull changed everything.
Cal is forced to come crawling back home for the first time in ten years, his body broken and riding days behind him. But not everyone is happy for the return of their local celebrity.
Eli Jackson was once the tall, dark, and sinful preacher’s son who had Cal wrapped around his little finger. Now the steely-eyed sheriff of Sweetwater, Eli is hell bent on running him right back out of town. He’s never forgiven Cal for the spectacular implosion of their relationship. Even though the lingering tension soon has them burning up the sheets, he refuses to be tamed.
Cal is surprised to find himself rising to a new challenge: breaking the bull that is Eli Jackson.
He might have run out of luck, but he’s not out of miracles… yet.
Down Low was an emotional rollercoaster. I found myself enjoying the heck out of it. It was so good! This is an angsty, second chance, friends to enemies to lovers story of high school sweethearts Calvin Craig and Eli Jackson.
Cal and Eli were each other first loves. They had to keep their relationship a secret because Eli was the son of a hellfire and brimstone pastor. In their senior year, Cal wanted to come out but Eli was hesitant. He was heading to college and couldn’t jeopardize his future. They had an ugly fight. The next day, Cal disappeared.
Ten years after, we see Cal returning home (slunking more like). For the past decade, he was a bull-riding superstar and had the broken bones to show for it. He was still healing in several parts, too injured to ride again. The moment he arrived in Sweetwater, he was in for a lot of surprises. Also, Eli hated his guts.
Cal is a “pipsqueak who doesn’t know when to quit” according to Eli. He was bullied in high school. Bull-riding is all he knows. He is a self-destructive adrenaline junkie who would risk permanent injury to save those he cared about. Eli is the town sheriff. He is level-headed and dependable but has a dark streak hidden deep inside.
The book is solely from Cal’s POV. I wished we had Eli’s POV too. Sometimes, when we get a 1st person POV from a person who pines for somebody, it feels unbalanced. Like the other person has all the power. But this was soon put to rights as the story progressed. We witness Eli being drawn to Cal like a magnet and learn his side of the story.
The book perfectly depicted all the conflicting, heart-crushing emotions of seeing your first love after 10 years, the one who betrayed you but still loved after all this time. The longing, the USTs, the hate kisses, the flames gloriously coming back to life. My heart went out to Cal and Eli. They had to sort through a decade of hurts and misunderstandings. Mutual pining, anyone? ♡
I loved the parts where Eli couldn’t help himself. He just had to kiss Cal even if he wanted to punch him just as badly. Cal loves pushing his buttons and when Eli’s buttons are pushed, that’s when things get seriously explosive.
Peak Cal moment is him singing Son Of A Preacher Man offkey at the top of his voice just to annoy Eli, instead of enjoying the cozy morning after. Which ended their very brief “truce” and sent them back to square one a.k.a. Eli hating him again.
Each chapter is marked with a song and opens with a short flashback. I loved how the writing seamlessly take us back to the past and juxtaposed it with the present. We see how Cal’s teen self views the world, perhaps still in a limited, adults are enemies way most people his age do. He created a boogeyman in Eli’s father, who was a huge presence not only in their lives but the entire town as well.
His adult self was very much surprised with how much his small town has changed. And how it still the same podunk town he left behind. I enjoyed the parts where he realized things were different now, more accepting and open. Bullies are now friends and the pastor is only a human who loves his son.
The book also excelled in bringing bull-riding to life. This is a world I know nothing about, but here, it was portrayed, not so much in vivid detail, but with well-written glimpses that easily captured the rodeo world. It brought us the heat and adrenaline, the heart stopping triumphs and the sometimes fatal losses, and the indomitable spirits of men who risk life and limb for 8 precious seconds.
Down Low is simply wonderful. It is one man’s eye-opening homecoming, a reliving of unforgettable memories, a comfort for years of hurts, a fixing of mistakes, and a tumultuous reunion of childhood sweethearts. It takes us through a whole gamut of emotions, sad, happy, painful, sweet and more. Yeah, quite a ride this one!
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
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Cabrini Law: Other Than Honorable – Parker St. John
Revenge is a risky business… but nothing is more dangerous than love.
No one would suspect the hell Matthew Ballard has lived through, least of all the green-eyed Marine sent to protect him. Matt is playing a long con against a dangerous foe. He can’t afford the distraction of a bodyguard with his own pile of issues… no matter how desperately he secretly craves the feel of his rough hands.
When J.D. Reese lost the Marine Corps, he lost the only home he ever knew. Discharged and adrift, he can’t afford to refuse a job protecting the spoiled heir of an embattled energy corporation. His young charge is cunning, arrogant, and infuriating… and Reese wants him more than his next breath.
Can two hard-as-nails men surrender to each other when the fight is all they’ve ever known?
It didn’t unseat Murder Aforethought as my favorite but Other Than Honorable is a decent follow up to the second book. It’s a story about being yourself and following your dreams. It’s also about letting yourself move on from the past and living the life you deserve.
J.D. Reese was introduced in book 2 as Val’s former captain and bestfriend. He provided backup when Val and Maks were in trouble with the mob.
Reese reminded people of Steve Rogers. He has a laidback personality and an easy grin. You’d think he’s all Southern charm and Texas drawl when in fact he’s fighting his own demons. Which he does by drinking himself to oblivion.
He supports himself by doing odd jobs as a bodyguard of sorts. He’s been living in a roach motel for months. His friends decided to stage an intervention and directs him to a bodyguard gig protecting a controversial billionaire.
Matthew Ballard could have been Bruce Wayne had he taken his considerable MMA fighting skills to the streets. Instead, he’s in the closet, stuck doing a job he hated and slowly putting his plan for revenge into action. All the while suffocating under his homophobic father’s thumb.
The two came from vastly different backgrounds but as we delve deeper into the story, we see that both men dealt with similar issues. They recognized the other’s innate goodness each of them don’t want the world to know. Reese because he’s wracked with guilt at the death of his military brothers under his command. Matt because he thinks being seen as good is a weakness.
As with all the characters in the series, Reese and Matt were complex, nuanced characters who felt real. Their romance was slow-burn which is always a plus. They were drawn towards each other naturally although on the whole, it lacked the zing that was present in Val and Maks.
I was also expecting more for the conclusion of Matt’s grand revenge scheme. It was what a good person would do but I couldn’t help feeling let down especially after what he had gone through and the time it took to bring the whole thing into fruition. And because I hated his cold bastard of a father, too.
The book did a good job setting up Miguel’s story, which is next. You could feel the tension between him and Detective Ray Travis a mile away. The detective was investigating the threats to Matt’s and/or Reese’s life. Miguel was backing Reese up as a lawyer and as a friend.
I loved how the rest of the Cabrini gang came together to support Reese when he was sued by the family of one of the dead soldiers. There was an oh so brief glimpse of Alexander Cabrini. I had a feeling he’s going to give Maks a run for his money on my favorites list. Alas, his book ,#6, is still far away a.k.a. not yet written. Please come sooner, please!
The story came together in a suspenseful climax where we get to see Matt doing badass things. I liked that he was the one who gets to do this rather than his ex-military boyfriend.
When he finally came out, you can feel the lightness he felt after carrying that much baggage for so long. He was out about his sexuality, out of the office he hated, out in the ring beating the crap out of his opponent because he can finally fight as a pro. He was positively radiant.
Reese freed himself and lived his life with Matt.
They’re not looking back.
Other Than Honorable is best read after the first two books. There are many recurring characters and references to previous events. This series has been a treat. It’s always a delight to catch up with these justice league of lawyers. Read reviews here and find out why.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
Cabrini Law: Murder Aforethought – Parker St. John
A ticking clock. A deadly enemy. Can they keep their heads in the game when their hearts are already on the line?
Valentine Rivetti made a horrible mistake when he became a Marine Sniper at the age of twenty. Returning home with PTSD and a guilty conscience, he’s blackmailed into working for the mafia to save his family.
Maksim Kovalenko has everything he ever dreamed of growing up in a Ukrainian slum. As a notorious corporate attorney, he has the world at his feet. But wealth and power can’t protect him from the emptiness he feels every time he shuts his eyes.
When Val is arrested for a murder he didn’t commit, his redemption is a silver fox in a three-piece suit. But Val’s lucky day becomes Maksim’s nightmare when the mafia begins to cut loose ends… starting with them.
The passion between them is overwhelming, but can two solitary men learn to trust each other before it’s too late?
It’s only the second book, but I’m declaring Murder Aforethought as the best book of the Cabrini Law series.
This is of course a completely biased judgement because I love Maks!
I first met Maksim Kovalenko in the first book, Risk Assessment. He got on everybody’s nerves and dazzled people with his perfect veneers.
Maks is a fascinating character. As the best corporate lawyer in town, he is a consummate workaholic. The type who dreads going on vacation. He was frequently described as an asshole and is only too happy to confirm the fact. The only person he cares about is his young friend, Emma, a teenage girl with neglectful parents. The rest of the world he holds at arms length.
Despite the cold, distant facade, Maksim dedicates a major chunk of his time applying his lawyerly genius doing pro bono work for Cabrini Law‘s underpriviledged clients. One of his cases involved a young ex-military held in question for suspected murder.
Valentine Rivetti was a troubled young man who has PTSD. He works as a hitman for the mob. He used to be a sniper in the military until he realized the job was not for him. His father was a petty criminal. His mother died of suicide.
Val believed the only thing he knows how to do is shoot. But he insisted he did not kill the man his father used to work for, both of whom were related to the mob. Still, somebody tried to kill him the minute he got out of the police station.
Bias or not, this was definitely a much better book than its predecessor. For one, this was a fast-paced running-from-the-mob story. We see a lot of action and flying bullets. The excitement and suspense was palpable as we hightailed it across the city alongside Maks, Val and Emma, who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
I totally loved how Maks and Val’s romance blossomed over the course of the week of them on the run. It didn’t feel rushed. The progression was paced to perfection and developed organically with the rest of the plot.
Val was just the right combination of strong and vulnerable that appealed to Maks at some core level. He recognized the young man’s intelligence and potential to do great things. Val saw through Maks’ walls, right to the golden heart that lay beneath. Maks felt it in his guts, he had to give the ex-soldier a home where he could find peace. Then he realized, he had one more person he cared about.
All the other characters stood out too. I enjoyed how each character played off with the others.
Emma was spunky and brave. I liked that the author didn’t go overboard with that. Emma acted like a real teenager. She cried. She got scared. But she was quick to help Val when he was hit by a bullet.
There were welcome appearances from Miguel, another lawyer from Cabrini. He’s an easy going guy who claims to be Maks’ friend whether Maks admits to it or not. There was also Val’s friend and former captain, Reese. This man sure has a lot of baggage. His book is next.
Murder Aforethought was a book I couldn’t put down. The writing flowed smoothly. The characterization was on point. The plot wasn’t new and I wished we had more of Maks and Val but overall the execution was done well. I was swept away by the adrenaline, the sweet hurt/comfort story and the delicious slow-burn-but- not-really romance.
Let yourself be swept away too and be charmed by heroic men ready to jump in front of bullets and silver-haired lawyers quoting The Princess Bride.
Witness Maks being an asshole and meet Elliot Smith a.k.a. Beyonce in Book 1, Risk Assessment, review here.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
Cabrini Law: Risk Assessment – Parker St. John
All they have left is their pride.
Elliot Smith was once a hotshot attorney, but those days are long gone. A midlife crisis of conscience has left him with shattered confidence, abandoned by his former friends and scraping by at a legal aid clinic. When a smoking hot bad boy rescues him from the side of the road, Elliot is sure he doesn’t stand a chance.
After a misspent youth boosting cars, Lucas Kelly runs his own garage and is finally getting his life back on track. He isn’t about to risk everything by daring to hope for something more, especially not with a man so far above his pay-grade.
The heat between them is enough to have them questioning everything they thought they knew about themselves. But is explosive chemistry enough to keep them together when Elliot’s career threatens to drive them apart?
Risk Assessment is the first book of Cabrini Law, a lawyer romance series featuring a justice league of attorneys out to defend the little guys. And fall in love.
First of all, the MC’s name is Elliot Smith!!! It’s missing a T but still, Elliot Smith!
So I wanted to like him immediately. And I did like him. He was that interesting mix of smarts, ruthlessness and naivety. As a lawyer, he was damn good at his job. He cares about his clients and goes the extra mile for them. He genuinely believes in people. Outside his professional life, whatever silver tongue he has at the courtroom gets all tied up in front of a hot guy. Which happens every time he talks to Lucas.
All of the above would have been cute. What I didn’t like was how Elliot was made to look desperate and needy. I get being submissive but why is he the one always grovelling in front of Lucas. Especially when it was Lucas who said all those horrible things. Yes, this book has one big ugly fight. I wish it didn’t.
Lucas Kelly was harder to like. I wanted to like him too. He’s an ex-con trying to make a better life for himself. He just bought the garage he used to work in. He’s on his last few probation meetings and is well on his way to becoming a free man. He’s charming and dominant but he also has an insecure side which reared its ugly head at the latter part of the story. Hence, the big fight.
Majority of these two men’s issues revolved around the ‘I’m not good enough for him’ woes. This could have been resolved by talking. Instead, Lucas lashed out, hitting Elliot on spots where it hurt the most. He called his 40-year old boyfriend old. Meanwhile, Elliot received advice about self-worth from an unlikely source, his ex. Then went out of his way to grovel. I know this is the ‘going after what he wants’ side of Elliot but I really, really wanted Lucas to do the grovelling.
These gripes aside, Risk Assessment is a good debut and worked really well as a series opener. It is, first and foremost, romance but I liked how the other aspects, such as Elliot’s professional life and his case on Julio, and Lucas’ strive for a normal life, was integrated into the main thread. I also liked how things came together at the end. And for a first book, the writing is great. It’s easy to read and held my attention from start to finish.
The book also succeeded in introducing characters I would love to see more of. I’m excited to read about the other lawyers, like Miguel and especially Maksim. Maks is an arrogant bastard and he knows he’s brilliant enough to earn the right to be one. He’s a silver fox with a silver tongue. I know his story will be aaawe-some!
If you like stories where lawyers are rescued by underwear models and mechanics are wooed by Beyonce, take a chance on Risk Assessment.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love