This is a round up of the books I read on the 1st quarter of this year that I’m too lazy to do a full review.
The Paul Monroe Mystery: Death Tells A Tale – Felice Stevens writing as A.P. Eisen
Cliff Baxter is approached with a dream job, but it means time away from the man he loves and the family he’s only just reconciled with. When opportunity knocks twice and another unexpected offer comes his way, he and Paul make a decision neither dreamed possible, changing their lives forever.
Paul Monroe has everything he’s ever wanted—the man he loves, the respect of his coworkers…everything except the answer to his first murder investigation, the only case he’s never been able to solve.
Who killed Ginny Sweeten?
Follow along with Paul and his partner, Rob, as they wade through years-old evidence and piece together Thornwood Park’s most notorious cold case, leading to its startling and unexpected conclusion.
After dropping that cliffhanger in Book 3, Death Comes To Main Street, A.P. Eisen, also known as Felice Steven, delivers the much-awaited 4th installment, Death Tells A Tale. This is, sadly, also the finale of the gritty but cozy police procedural, The Paul Monroe Mysteries.
It’s common for mystery series to have the detective face their greatest nemesis at the latter point. Paul and his detective partner, Rob, went back to their very first case upon learning the bastard they had put behind bars was out.
Both were still green when they worked on Ginny Sweeten’s murder case. With sloppy forensic work done by lazy forensic officials, they barely got a conviction if not for a strand of hair. Now, they needed something more conclusive or else be dinged by technicalities.
Their investigation opened wounds that never truly healed. Paul and Rob met with the grief-stricken father, the uncaring mother, various schoolmates, and some nasty people. The villain was a piece of work who had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The bastard managed to form a cult fresh out of prison. He’s a lazy asshole who uses his good looks and considerable charm to con women into doing his bidding.
The plot is similar to the 3rd book in that the criminal is already known. It’s a matter of proving it. I liked how the plot was executed. It struck a good balance between giving detailed accounts of the investigation and Paul and Cliff’s personal life.
The mystery was pretty complex and challenging. It went through each step of the investigation while keeping me in the dark until the aha moment. You can feel the stress and frustration as the detectives combed through the old evidence, retracing their steps and trying to find anything they might have missed. I was thoroughly invested in the results because I hated the bad guy.
However, I echo some issues pointed out by other reviewers. I did find this installment the least intense. The pacing felt a tad slower. There were moments when I was just there for the ride. The resolution of the case also felt unsatisfying. I have commended the series for avoiding grand heroics, yet I couldn’t help wanting a more impactful resolution this time. Especially with the kind of villain it has. Even the conflict regarding Cliff’s job came across as dry. While it mirrors very real career woes, it just doesn’t make for a riveting read.
Apart from the good mystery, another of the thing that kept me going was my love for the characters. Paul and Cliff had come a long way, and they’re firmly heading for that HEA. They’re proof that you don’t need big fights or miscommunications to make the romance exciting. I loved how happy and healthy their relationship was. And that it also feels real and relatable. This is what makes this noirish series cozy.
Paul in particular, had grown so much. From a deeply closeted cop to somebody who is infinitely more comfortable in his own skin. And an awesome boyfriend to boot!
Cliff has always been amazing from the start. He’s a well-respected, uber-competent hotel manager. He handled Paul’s coming to terms with his sexuality in the most-level headed, most understanding and most patient way possible. They’re one of my favorite out-for-you stories.
Death Tells A Tale wraps up a very enjoyable mystery series. It brings the detectives full circle while inspiring the boyfriends to take the leap forward. There might be some mixed feels and pacing issues, but overall, it’s still quite a tale to tell.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
Follow Paul as he finds himself with Cliff, stumbles upon dead bodies, catch bad guys and work towards an HEA with his guy in The Paul Monroe Mysteries. The books should be read in order. Check out my review of the first three books below:
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Big Bend Texas Rangers: Never Stay Gone – Tal Bauer
Six bodies in a single grave… in the same West Texas country where Dakota left everything behind.
Every beat of my heart belongs to you.
Thirteen years ago, Dakota Jennings thought he’d found his forever when he fell in love with Shane Carson. But one afternoon shattered their love story, and both Dakota and Shane left Rustler, Texas, with broken hearts. Even now, Dakota is still feeling the agony of losing Shane. Sure, he’s a Texas Ranger, but that’s not how he wanted to live his life. All he ever wanted was to love Shane.
Loving you is the only time I feel alive.
Shane’s life was supposed to be different than this. There’d been a plan, ever since he was knee-high to his father. But falling for Dakota spun Shane’s world upside down, and for years, Shane has had nothing but the memories of all that he lost: Dakota’s gentle touch, and the sweetness of his lips, and the star-strewn nights they spent wrapped in each other’s arms.
West of the Pecos, there is no law.
When the Rangers get the call about six bodies being pulled out of a mass grave in West Texas, the governor sends Dakota to run the investigation. Dakota heads back to his hometown and comes face-to-face with the last man he ever expected to see again: only now, he’s Deputy Shane Carson… Dakota’s local partner assigned to the case.
There’s nothing Dakota wants more than a second chance with Shane, but so much is stacked against them: six corpses, a murderer on the loose, and history that refuses to stay buried. And the bodies keep piling up as Dakota and Shane try to run the killer down across the West Texas plains.
In a moment, everything changes: the hunters become the hunted, the past fractures, and all Dakota thought he knew comes tumbling down. Secrets break wide open as Dakota remembers–
This is West Texas, and out here, nothing is as it seems.
Big Bend County is a place of beauty and desolation, of secrets and small towns. Where the past and the present collide, and where nothing stays hidden forever.
This MM romantic suspense is the first in the new Big Bend Texas Rangers series. Come along for the West Texas sunsets, the heart-pounding thrills, and the hard-won Happy Ever Afters.
Never Stay Gone is the first book of the romantic suspense, police procedural series, Big Bend Texas Rangers. The Texas Rangers are the badass officers who patrol the West Texas desert areas up to the border.
The story opens with Deputy Sheriff Shane Carson stumbling upon a grave of six women in various stages of decomposition. With talks of a serial killer being bandied about, the Texas governor tasks ex-military Texas Ranger and, also her personal guard, Dakota Jennings to investigate.
Shane and Dakota were friends turned secret boyfriends back in high school. Shane broke things off because of pressure from his over-bearing dad just when Dakota was about to tell him of his plans after they graduated. With his world crashing down around him, Dakota disappeared. After 13 years, he’s back in Big Bend, a changed man but somehow still in love with the same boy.
This book has all the hallmarks of what I have come to recognize as the Tal Bauer style. There’s the thrilling suspense, the twisty-turny plot, people in high places with the dirtiest secrets, the swoony second chance romance, the mysterious pivotal event the characters agonize over but would turn out to be different from what their internal monologue seem to convey. Let’s not forget the amazing John Solo emoting the heck out of everything.
I loved how it was done in The Murder Between Us and The Night Of. Both of these were rated 5 stars. Here, it took me a while to get into the story. The opening chapters weren’t hooking me as much as I wanted them to. Descriptions of landscapes tend to make my eyes gloss over from boredom. I was propelled by John Solo’s performance. I’m glad I stuck around because things picked up once the investigation started.
Drama was on an all-time high, with many highly emotional scenes. And when the tears came, they kept on coming. This is quite possibly, the weepiest MM romance I’ve ever read! Waterworks from manly men could be deeply moving but very annoying when they start bawling at every other scene. Shane, in particular, was very weepy. The guy had it rough but jeez!
Shane was the golden boy, the quarterback, and his dad’s only hope of reclaiming the family legacy. He lived under his father’s thumb, his entire life already planned out by the older man. His only act of rebellion was his relationship with Dakota.
After his football career fizzled out, Shane worked as the deputy sheriff. This is where he is at his best. He’s a bit green when it comes to murder investigations, but he knows how to connect with people. He’s always ready to share a kind word.
Dakota was the cowboy son of drifters Shane befriended during high school football tryouts. Since then, the two were inseparable, mutually pining after one another until Shane struck up the courage to make a move.
If there was ever one guy made to be a book boyfriend, Dakota’s your man. He was completely devoted to Shane then, he’s still devoted now. Even as a teenager, he planned his whole life on how to support Shane’s dream of becoming a pro football player. As an adult, he built a house for his man. With his own hands.
I’ll never forget that flashback to their last day in senior year where he presented his meager budget for his and Shane’s living expenses, a.k.a. his heart on a plate, with all the earnestness of a youth in love, only to have it handed back. It was one of the most heartbreaking scenes ever! The sensation of falling and shattering to pieces was palpable. My chest hurt for Dakota. I nearly started sobbing myself.
The reconciliation scene? Hooboy, people were flayed raw! That’s how intense it was. I was glad the book is written in 3rd person dual POV. The emotional impact of a 1st person POV would have been too much.
I was super happy they grabbed that second chance and made the most of it. But then I got paranoid that the author might pull another plot twist and pull the rug out from everyone’s feet. This was still halfway through the book and I don’t think I could bear any more relationship drama.
I got so anxious about it I stopped reading. It wasn’t until I read a review saying things went well for the couple after that reunion that I breathed a sigh of relief and picked it up again. The rest of the story focused on the mystery.
I’d like to say the mystery was predictable. In hindsight, it followed the usual pattern of the author. But I was the gullible fool who fell for the red herring, suspecting the loner who was actually going above and beyond his duty. So good job on that nice bit of redirection!
When I thought about it, Never Stay Gone is written like Shane and Dakota’s favorite country songs. Full of lonely cowboys, small-town life, first kisses, devastating heartbreaks, and sappy love declarations that make you cringe and make you smile too. This is truly a book that doesn’t pull its emotional punches. They hit you, hard, straight in the kokoro. It’s not my favorite, but it will stay with me for a long time.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
This book comes with an official soundtrack. Check out the songs from the CD Dakota gave to Shane. Because he’s dorky like that.
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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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Note: another long post so you can skip to the end for the tl:dr version if you want. looks like this is turning out to be a series review month
Bad Behavior was one of the best series I’ve read back in 2018. This gritty, partners to lovers, police procedural cemented L.A. Witt and Cari Z‘s status as one of the best writing duos for me. Just when I thought Andreas and Darren’s story was over, we get another awesome installment and a floofy floof short story.
This is a review of Books 5 and 5.5.
Bad Behavior: Protective Behavior – L.A. Witt & Cari Z
Detective Mark Thibedeau is perfectly happy doing his job in Internal Affairs and going home to his cat. Still, when his assistant wants to set him up on a blind date, he can’t help but be intrigued.
Dr. Ryan Campbell loves the frenetic pace of working in an emergency department. He likes his life and doesn’t need anyone. But that guy his colleague wants him to meet does sound pretty interesting.
It’s instant chemistry when they meet—and instant chaos.
That chaos isn’t just phone calls interrupting dates. When a patient comes into the ED rapidly bleeding out from a gunshot wound, Ryan suddenly finds himself in possession of evidence that could very well put two white cops in jail for killing an innocent black man in cold blood.
Not sure what else to do, Ryan takes the evidence to the only cop he can trust—Mark.
Now Mark is investigating a delicate case, and Ryan is a material witness, and putting their fledgling relationship on hold is the least of their problems. Dirty cops stalk Ryan and his colleagues. Higher-ups question Mark’s investigative integrity at every turn. Worse, he’s tugging at threads of a citywide systemic problem of cops getting away with racially motivated murder.
And there are cops with blood on their hands who will gladly kill to keep that system running.
CW: Racially motivated violence, white-cop-on-black civilian violence
This book is #5 in the Bad Behavior series, but can be read as a standalone.
I read in L.A. Witt‘s post somewhere that Protective Behavior began as series narrator Michael Ferraiuolo‘s suggestion. This book was a pleasant surprise. It’s a story I didn’t realize I wanted because I didn’t really pay that much attention to IA Detective Mark Thibedeau. After learning of its existence, I was like, oh yeah, about time we have a book about Internal Affairs cops.
We first met Mark in Book 1, Risky Behavior, as the IA detective who thought Andreas was a dirty cop. He and Andreas were both grumpy assholes who butt heads all the time. Andreas’ daughter Erin later worked as Mark’s assistant. She wrangled him into a blind date with a doctor friend, Ryan.
Mark and Ryan are two very busy men who had no lives outside work. They immediately hit it off but barely got around to their second date, let alone some smexy times, due to ongoing investigations and medical emergencies. They tried. Boy, they really tried but the call of duty always had impeccable bad timing.
I felt their initial meeting was, deliberately, a conventional blind date, perhaps as a reminder that they were really just ordinary people cockblocked by extraordinary circumstances.
Some time after they began dating, Mark found himself investigating a suspected murder of a black man by white cops. The more Mark uncovers, the more he realized this could very well be a systemic problem.
The case was brought to his attention by Ryan. The doctor was the one who attended the victim. The man handed him a recording of the incident as he lay dying . This makes Ryan a witness and thus off limits for any romantic endeavors. It also made him a target of the psycho cops who were looking to get rid of evidence.
I might have initially overlooked him before but the authors did a good job making Mark a likable character here. He’s not a flash and bang guy. He’s more of a solid, dependable, dogged determination gets the job done kind of guy. He goes home to a spoiled cat. A dead giveaway that this hardened detective is really a softie.
Ryan’s more of the same, albeit more playful and flirty. Right away, they understood the kind of high stress, demanding job the other man had. They made their relationship work despite those hurdles. I liked that they were kind of low-key compared to the flashier Andreas and Darren because it feels right to their story. I also appreciated that they were both in their 40s and this is not an age-gap romance.
The story is first and foremost, a police procedural. I really enjoyed this because it’s my first time to read a book that focuses on Internal Affairs. IA investigations are trickier than normal cases. Cops don’t snitch on other cops. Especially their partners.
The plot was well-written. It was easy to follow but still giving plenty of twists and turns that kept me at the edge of my seat. Any police procedural aficionado would love all the nitty gritty investigative stuff.
This is a very timely book that reflects real life events, specifically racism and Black Lives Matter. These issues were handled well. I read one review that says the story tries too hard to make a point. I did find some parts repetitive but not preachy.. All in all, gripping and relevant .
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bit
Bad Behavior: Cuddly Behavior – L.A. Witt & Cari Z
Detective Andreas Ruffner is less than thrilled when his husband and partner, Detective Darren Corliss, announces they’ll be cat-sitting for a couple of weeks. He’s even less pleased when he realizes the cat in question is a large grumpy thing with razor-sharp claws and no regard for personal space.
When Darren deploys the puppy dog eyes, though, Andreas is powerless to say no, so they’re on kitty detail… and despite his best efforts, Andreas is a sucker for the critter shedding all over his apartment and stealing his husband’s affection.
It’s only for two weeks. Plenty of time for the cat to get on his nerves, but not nearly enough for her to trick him into falling in love with her. Right?
This 15,000 word short story is Bad Behavior book 6, and is best read after Protective Behavior.
So I mentioned above that Mark goes home to his cat. The cat is Harley, a giant hairy ball of fluff with no regard for personal space. She jumped on an injured Mark and opened his stitches. So she was sent to live with Andreas and Darren for a couple of weeks while Mark recovers.
This short story is full of adorable cat antics and besotted humans. It is a demonstration of how cats can win over even the most anti-cat person. Witness grizzled detective Andreas being trained by the cunning Harley to become her personal seat cushion, much to the delight of his husband, Darren. Photographic evidence was promptly obtained for posterity.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bit
Michael Ferraiuolo was right on the money when he suggested Mark’s book. Protective Behavior certainly added another dimension to the series by giving us a peek at the inner workings of the Internal Affairs Department. It is a solid police procedural tackling real life issues with a gentle, low-steam romance that goes perfectly well with the story’s vibe. Cuddly Behavior is the squishy cherry on top, a veritable catnip to all cat lovers.
Protective Behavior can be read as a standalone but why stop at one? Experience all the different ways to misbehave in the first four Bad Behavior books: Risky Behavior, Suspicious Behavior, Reckless Behavior and Romatic Behavior.
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