This is a round up of the books I read on the 2nd half of this year that I’m too lazy to do a full review.
Wayward – Mary Calmes
Maksim Lenkov is certain he’s not a good man. His father isn’t, and since Maks is his second in command, then certainly, he’s just as evil. The list of sins is long, and there’s no getting around that. What’s messing him up is that despite all that, in the midst of life and death, his only friend tells him he’s been a blessing; law enforcement is treating him like he prevented more bloodshed than he caused, and everyone is concerned with doing right by him. Why? And how is Maks supposed to figure out who he is, when everything he thought he knew is suddenly turned upside down? It only gets weirder once he begins his new life in witness protection. Because if he’s a guardian angel of women and children, dogs, and one eccentric heiress, can he really be a bad man? Added into the mix is a handsome, loyal deputy chief of police, who lives next door and thinks Maks hangs the moon. Is it possible that living in hell never actually made him into the devil? Perhaps it was only a wayward life, and now it’s time to chart a new course.
I’m on a mob boss falls in love with cop streak, it seems. Last week’s read was the dark and possessive Take Me Apart, and the week before that was the fluffy rom-com Pretty Policeman. This week’s read combines the two.
Wayward by Mary Calmes gives us something we don’t often see. A reformed mob boss living a new life with a cop. The story is divided into two parts that are polar opposites of each other.
It started with the sordid life of much-feared bratva second in command, Maksim Lenkov. As the younger son, he was tasked to inherit the criminal side of their family and has to live in the shadows. Meanwhile his older brother, the golden boy, Pasha, lives in the limelight as the billionaire heir handling real estate and other above board businesses.
This part was the most compelling for me. Here we have Maks, a reluctant bratva boss, secretly working in the shadows behind the shadows to make life better for his men and their families. He is adamant that the Lenkovs do not traffic humans, do not sell drugs, or handle prostitution. A stance that came biting him in the ass.
It’s a story of betrayal of epic proportions that suckerpunched Maks with cars and bullets. I was as shocked as Maks when it happened! It was a miracle he survived. Then he turned around and dropped his own bomb on them.
The second part is a redemption fairytale of sorts. Maks, now with a different last name, is driving to the small town of Rune to his new home. He stumbles upon two injured dogs that he took to the vet. There, he learns that the dogs are own by woman whose abusive husband wouldn’t let her daughter keep them.
Said abusive husband and his buddies came to the clinic intending to rough them up, but Maks jumped in to save them. He was hailed a hero. And this became the running theme, Maks ending up saving someone and everyone adores him, much to his bewilderment. People tend to be scared of him before.
In keeping with the fairytale vibe, Maks’s new home is in a crumbling Victorian estate of a famed eccentric heiress, Ada Farley, who promptly took a liking to Maks and hired him as the caretaker.
Right off the bat, Ada practically signed away all her money to Maks just because she feels good about him and trusts him as the caretaker who would rebuild her estate. The banker handling her account, also took an immediate liking to Maks and keenly gave him access. All these, knowing the man just arrived in town and knowing jack shit about him.
I am on the fence with the book. I feel it should be two different stories, while at the same time, I loved that we see the before and after of a reformed criminal’s life, where the Maks grabbed his second chance and ran with it. Reading about a ruthless bratva boss with a moral compass appeals to the anti-hero fan in me, but seeing that former mob boss thriving as a regular law-abiding citizen is an endearing story that doesn’t get told often.
While some aspects of the bratva thread were stretching it a bit, some parts of the the redemption fairytale were simply ridiculous. The second part was written like an OTT rom-com, and it fell flat to me.
The romance also felt like an afterthought. Maks and Deputy Chief Gale Malloy met nearly halfway through the story already. This would have been okay. Gale is a sweet guy but totally forgettable. And the romantic development, or lack thereof, was forced through a couple days. It would have developed more naturally had it been given more chapters or a sequel to grow.
One aspect I like explored more is Maks using his bratva-acquired abilities to help the police. There was a scene where Maks was able to find a missing child because the bratva had to deal with a lot of kidnappings in past, so he knew what to look for. It would be interesting to read about him help solve crimes.
Overall, Wayward is a mixed bag. It is a gritty story of family and betrayal, and a tale of redemption and second chances. While the ridiculous antics and lack-luster romance took away some stars, I loved Maks living in the shadows and walking the straight and narrow. He made the two worlds worth the journey!
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
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Woods of the Raven – Mary Calmes
Something wicked this way comes…and it might be too late to stop it. Xander Corey lives simply, sustainably, on the outskirts of Osprey, a small, quaint town in Upstate New York. He’s a librarian when the town’s budget can afford him, a good friend, kind neighbor, and also, a witch. And while that’s of no concern to anyone around him, there are others, non-humans, who have a vested interest in Xander’s family land. Xander knows something dark and dangerous is brewing. He’s just not quite sure what.
And that’s not the only mystery he’s dealing with. The new chief of police is, by turns, giving him heart palpitations and homicidal thoughts. Xander can’t decide if the gorgeous yet infuriating Lorne MacBain is on his side, or trying to drive him insane. Added to that, the man doesn’t believe in magic, and since that’s who Xander is, their future looks anything but bright.
But Lorne is not the unimaginative, stick-in-the-mud Xander thinks he is. And a rock to anchor him as his life is turning upside down is just the thing Xander needs. Now if only the two of them can stay alive…
The cover is gorgeously atmospheric!
I’m familiar with Mary Calmes as I’ve seen many of her works. Woods of the Raven is my first read from her, and needless to say, I have high expectations from a veteran author.
The premise (and the cover) immediately caught my attention. A small town in New York with its very own guardian witch watching over the land. It is something I would call a witch procedural. It is very rich in witchcraft with an emphasis on the “craft” part.
MC Xander Corey goes around town offering advice, explaining arcane stuff, helping people cleanse their homes, making potions, wreaths, and something called witch ladder, which he also sells at the fair. He donates the proceeds to animal charities because his magic is a gift. Therefore he cannot accept payments. The book goes into detail in the makings of the items as well steps in doing the rituals.
The story reads very much like a cozy slice of life that stumbled upon a murder mystery. Romance comes in the form of the hunky new sheriff, Lorne Macbain, who brought the crime to Xander’s notice because it happened near his property.
Having antagonistic run-ins with the sheriff before, Xander was surprised to learn that those were rather confusing attempts by the sheriff to get his attention. Apparently, the poor man has been crushing on the town witch for a while but Xander was oblivious.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t a fan of the storytelling. Whatever plot the novel had was buried under piles of explanations and info-dumps. While I enjoy being educated in witchcraft, the story also felt the need to cram all the possible lore and magical creatures known, in addition to the Corey family background and town history. And so, sadly, the magic is lost in all that telling. Also, a bit confusing to those not very familiar with western folklore.
I love standalone novels, but this one could use a sequel or two so there would be room to show the other events rather than sacrifice plot, character, and romantic development for explanations. Because heck, even the romance was lackluster in its failure to build palpable chemistry.
I also felt we only skimmed the surface of Xander’s and Lorne’s characters. Also, Xander’s best friend Amanda was a strong woman in theory but in action was an overbearing caricature. I wished her character was executed better.
However, the story did exceptionally well in the boss fight scene because it was thrilling and action-packed with awesome displays of wild magic. This is what Xander was born to do, and boy, was he bad ass!
Woods of the Raven had a great premise but suffered in its delivery. Goes to show a little telling goes a long way.
2.5 Stars – far from hate but not quite a like
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This is a round up of the books I read on the 1st half of this year that I’m too lazy to do a full review.
This is a round up of the books I read on the 4rd quarter of this year that I’m too lazy to do a full review.
Aster Valley: Hot As Heller – Lucy Lennox
The man asked me to valet his damn car.
Look, I left LA for a reason. I’ve had my fill of big Hollywood stars and their even bigger egos. I want something genuine. Something real. And it doesn’t get any realer than being the new sheriff of Aster Valley, Colorado.
That is, until entitled Finn Heller appears on the scene, handing me the keys to his convertible like I’m his personal servant.
The former child star and wannabe action hero is the hottest thing I’ve ever seen. He’s also a snarky party animal with legions of adoring fans and attitude for days.
Or so I thought.
The longer the film crew stays in town, the more I begin to wonder if Finn is hiding his true self, one that’s as beautiful inside as out. He’s a star alright, but the kind that shines bright enough to light up the night sky… the kind I want to make a wish on.
A wish Finn will find a way to make things work with me, even if it means his next role is my very own leading man.
Aster Valley works its magic one more time in this delightful love story between a Shakespeare-quoting action star and the good sheriff of the town.
The sleepy mountain valley in Colorado is buzzing with movie stars. A film crew is in town shooting a big budget action flick starring infamous former child actor, Finn Heller. Sheriff Declan Stone has had enough of the crowds and the inflated egos and is counting the days when all these brouhaha is over. Unfortunately, fate keeps throwing trouble and a certain former child actor his way.
Finn has the disastrous reputation typical of child actors who grew up in front of the camera. But you got to hand it to our boy, he was trying really, really hard to rise above that. It was a huge uphill battle, with everyone, including his own mother, expecting him to be nothing more than a money-making machine. I was rooting hard for this sweet, passionate, hardworking man who just wants to be taken seriously.
I appreciated Dec being a steady, grounding presence for Finn. The good sheriff and the actor might have started off the wrong foot, even butted heads a few more times, but Dec always made sure the younger man was safe and protected.
I loved the way the author bought these two characters together. The more time they spent together, the more they realized there’s so much more to the other person. Their chemistry was just fabulous! And I adore the way Dec treats Finn like the treasure he is.
The most vivid moment for me was when Finn was at the park teaching some teenagers about Shakespeare. Dec saw him all glowing and happy under the trees and sunshine and he couldn’t resist coming over to talk. I could almost see that as a breathtaking scene in a rom-com movie, with the camera showing a dreamy Finn through Dec’s bedazzled eyes.
I enjoyed all the Aster Valley books, but I enjoyed Hot As Heller more because it was an easier read. Previously, I had complained that the antagonists were much too vile for me. So much so that they took me out of the story. Here, the author toned down the negativity, going for more tell rather than show. I really appreciated it because while we still have major conflicts and bad guys to keep us on our toes, they were deployed at a tolerable level.
All the couples from the previous books made their appearances. I always perk up whenever one of them pops up. This series has some of the most lovable supporting cast. They made me want to move to Aster Valley. The town itself is almost another character.
Hot As Heller is a heartwarming story about taking charge of one’s life and following your dreams. It continues the Aster Valley tradition of charming unwitting celebrities into finding love and staying for good. It is quite an enticing place. So I say, drop by any time. You’ll feel right at home too!
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Let Aster Valley charm you by reading the books in order. Check out my reviews below:
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Veiled Intentions: Black Moon – Elle Keaton
One corpse, two corpse, old corpse, new corpse.
Summer is crashing into fall, Mat and Niall have a wedding to overthink.
A body is discovered floating in the harbor and this time it’s the missing ex-Piedras Marine officer Duane Cooper.
Who, aside from Niall, wanted Duane dead? He’s been on the run for months, why would he turn up dead now?
Black Moon, third in the Veiled Intentions series, Black Moon is a dual POV following Sheriff Mat Dempsey and now Private Investigator Niall Hamarsson as they grope their way to a happily ever after.
Black Moon is the third book in the Veiled Intentions (formerly Hamarsson & Dempsey) series. Hopefully not the last. It follows directly from the awkward and very Niall proposal from the second book, Long Shadow.
The series is set in a small island of Piedras, part of the real life San Juan Islands in Washington. Island natives Niall Hamarrson and Sheriff Mat Dempsey both grew up in the island, moved away as adults, only to come back to their hometown later on. Niall, as way to find himself perhaps and Mat, after his father died.
The two started off antagonistic but Mat is a do-gooder who slowly but surely chipped away at the walls Niall built around himself. Fast forward many months later, Niall and Matt were trying to squeeze in wedding planning amidst murder investigations, new jobs, bomb explosions and buildings collapsing. A man involved in the previous case and who was missing for months was fished out of the water, dead.
I’ve been following this series since the beginning and I loved watching the characters grow. Niall in particular. Look how far he had come! When I first met him in Book 1, Conspiracy Theory, he was a grumpy bastard who barely said a word to anyone. The longest sentence he uttered was when he was talking about his dog, Fenrir.
Now, well, I wouldn’t say he’s a completely different person but you can definitely see his warm, caring side. Especially when Mat and animals are involved. He’s not really talking more but at least he talks. He’s even getting along with his new co-workers at West Coast Forensics, a private investigation firm.
I also loved how even if the two men were settling into a nice, comfortable domestic routine, the romance is far from boring. There’s enough external conflict to keep them on their toes. With work as dangerous as theirs, it’s just right that they have something safe and normal to come home to. And even if they had huge blow ups, they don’t let the bad feelings fester. They always talk and work things out. They’re complete opposites but they just synced perfectly!
The case was a tough one. It had me guessing until the big reveal. Mat unearthed a decade old secret about his father’s death. Niall was doing his usual bullheaded best by ‘helping’ with Mat’s investigation whether his fiance wanted him to or not. The big guy was supposed to rest after a building collapsed on him. But obviously, not one for staying at home and twiddling his thumbs. Not one to concern himself with legalities either.
The mystery connects to the previous cases as well as the author’s other books. There were many characters from other series that made appearances. I enjoyed this part a lot. It introduces a bigger world and more stories to explore.
This series has great supporting characters. There’s Alyson, Mat’s mom, as well as his sister and niece, who welcomed a long-lost Viking and his new-found mutt to their home right from the very beginning. There’s Birdy, Mat’s deputy and, possibly, the only capable officer in their perpetually understaffed department. There’s Marshall Soper, the only doctor in the island who had to double as a coroner. There’s smooth-talking lawyer, Shay, Niall’s half-brother, who he now likes. I hope Shay gets his own book.
The pacing here was better compared to the second book. It was faster and more consistent, giving a sense of constant motion while still delivering tension. There was ample time for the plot to develop properly. The downtimes didn’t lag. All in all, the best written installment in the series.
It also felt like a finale. Aside from the wedding, it wrapped up a lot of loose threads. It gave the boys their hard-earned happy ending and returned Piedras Island back to its sleepy, peaceful state. If Black Moon is indeed the last book, it’s a fitting conclusion to this compelling story about a big taciturn man and his giant dog, a kind-hearted sheriff who wouldn’t quit and a tiny island that always feels like home.
Veiled Intentions should be read in order.
Find out how a grumpy Viking found his way back to the home he thought he would never see again and a sheriff who wouldn’t leave him alone in Book 1, Conspiracy Theory. Check out my review here.
Witness how glacial that Viking can get when it comes to making up his mind about the sheriff (a patient, patient man bless his heart) in Book 2, Long Shadow. Check out my review here.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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