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    REVIEW: Sweet As Honey by Lucy Lennox

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    Aster Valley: Sweet As Honey – Lucy Lennox

    When I rode my bike into Aster Valley, it was supposed to be temporary. A quick, relaxing visit with friends. No entanglements. Zero drama.

    But then I saw the bumblebee being harassed on the side of the highway.

    More specifically, I saw Truman Sweet, Aster Valley’s resident botanist, spice merchant, and bee-costume enthusiast, being harassed. And the second I got involved, all my plans for a quick departure scattered like pollen on the breeze.

    It turns out that Truman—adorkably shy, relentlessly sunshiny, hot as all heck, reluctantly-still-a-virgin Truman—has secrets. Secrets someone in this charming small town doesn’t want brought to light. Secrets that rouse every one of my protective instincts just as surely as his kisses rouse… other parts of me.

    And before I know it, I’m thinking being entangled might not be so bad… if it’s Truman I’m tangled up with.

    I’ll do whatever it takes to protect Truman from the dangers in his past, but after a lifetime of loneliness and disappointment, how can I possibly convince him to trust me with his future?


    Time for another much anticipated visit to Aster Valley, a small town in the Colorado Mountains that’s big on charm and personality.

    The second full-length novel, Sweet As Honey, delivers a delightful love story between an adorkable plant geek and his adoring bad boy biker.

    It all started with a bumblebee.

    So Sam Rigby was cruising down the highway, minding his own business, when he spotted a bumblebee being harassed. He comes to its rescue and discovers it’s the friend of his bestfriend Mikey, the spice shop owner Truman Sweet. Then a truck comes barreling down the road and crushes his bike. They go to the town to report the incident, only for cops to surround them. Truman faints and Sam ends up looking like the bad guy.

    As Sam and Truman got to know each other better and become progressively closer, Sam learns that that incident was one of the many, many harassments Truman had endured under the hands of a pair of brothers. Their uncle is the town sheriff so good luck reporting that. All because of a shared past that Truman kept secret throughout most his life.

    This series has some of the worst villains out there. Give me blood and gore chaotic evils and I could take them on any time. It’s the lawful evil that really, really gets under my skin. In Book 1, it was Mikey’s dad, the coach. A guy who pretends he’s okay with queers but works underhandedly to undermine his gay son. Here, it’s Truman’s friend, Barney, and Sam’s mother and his sisters.

    Without giving too much away, these people pretend to look out for one’s own good then proceeds to gaslight, manipulate, spout biblical references even fake a medical emergency just to get their way. I hated them. They almost made me quit. I felt they belong to darker books. They are effective emotion-wise and plot-wise but they don’t encourage re-reads simply because I don’t want to meet them again.

    Happily, the good guys were awesome and they are most definitely worth the stay. I really enjoyed going through each MC’s thoughts. Truman is strong and brave, brilliant and funny. He had me chuckling in a couple of scenes. At times, very awkward but when you hit upon something relevant to his interests, off he goes talking non-stop about one trivia after another. I loved it when he’s on a roll. And Sam adored it too.

    We first knew Sam as Mikey’s bestfriend from Right As Raine. He owns a construction business. He doesn’t consider himself a relationship kind of guy. But the thing about Sam is that he’s very protective about the people he cares about. And his family is also shit. That’s why he and Mikey always looked out for each other. Then he found Truman, realized this was his person and grabbed on tightly.

    This book is one of the most wonderful and fluffily sweet romances out there. I lived for those heart-melting scenes! Sam and Truman were just perfect together. I loved the way they instinctively knew what the other needs without trampling all over the other person’s self-worth and autonomy. This was especially relevant because of the way Truman was treated by other people. I also loved how they used their brains, trusted one another and held on even as bad guys attempted to tear them apart again and again.

    I know I said the antagonists almost pulled me out of the story but this book is really more fluff than drama. It’s made up of a cast that I loved seeing again and again (except the bullies, of course). Tiller and Mikey played prominent roles throughout the story and Gentry and Winter also made appearances. So I recommend reading all the books in order, including the prequel.

    Sweet As Honey is a story about small towns secrets, family drama, building friendships, knowing who to trust and finding that person who feels like home. Overall, I had a great time with Sam and Truman. Aster Valley proved, yet again, it’s the place to be.

    P.S.

    Yes, the first two books are not to be missed. Witness a magical rockstar moment between folk rock superstar Gentry Kane and the titular Winter Waites in the prequel novella. Squee every time multi-million-dollar football receiver Tiller Raine calls his chef/coach’s son, Michael Vinning, my Mikey in Right As Raine.

    Reviews of Winter Waites and Right As Raine here.

    Rating:
    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

    Soundtrack: Honey
    Artist: Boy Pablo
    Album: Wachito Rico!


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    RIGHT AS RAINE | SWEET AS HONEY

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    SERIES REVIEW: Vigilance Books 1 & 2 by Silvia Violet

    Vigilance is the spin-off series of The Marchesi Family. It’s about a group of men who take on crime in order to right the wrongs the usual law enforcement authorities couldn’t or wouldn’t handle. I was excited to read this series when I met some of the members who were backing up the Marchesis in rescuing Devil’s boyfriend, Joe.

    Vigilance members might not be related by blood but they had a great found family thing going on and undying loyalty to each other much like the Marchesi’s. The series as a whole had a similar feel to the original series. It started with me not feeling the first book that much but stayed on because I was super intrigued by their group’s cause and their leader.

    The relationships in each book showcase different BDSM-type dynamics. The romances are insta-lust turned insta-love. I’m more of a slowburn person so I’m not particularly enthusiastic about the them. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

    My usual complaint with the Silvia Violet stories I encountered is that she always had this nice overarching plot as well as interesting characters but tends to focus too much on the sex. I know this is her thing but I think it’s a wasted opportunity to create a nicely balanced action/suspense romance instead of an erotic romance that happens to have some action/suspense.

    I’m saying this because the taking down human traffickers plot was a great overarching thread, especially when they had to go against a high-ranking politician who was so damn hard to catch. However, it was unfortunate that this side of the story was minimized in favor of the romance. The books had such rushed endings. They could have had great action scenes right there.

    This is my review of the first two books, Giorgio and Niall.


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    Vigilance: Giorgio – Silvia Violet

    I’m a sniper. A trained operator. A bodyguard. A member of the elite private security force known as Vigilance.

    When my boss’s son acquires a stalker, of course I’m the one he calls to keep the guy safe. Mr. X’s one rule? Keep my hands to myself.

    Not a problem.

    At least, not until I meet Lane Porter.

    He’s gorgeous. Flamboyant. Fascinating. He makes me want things I can’t have. He stretches my self-control to the limit… and then breaks it.

    As the threat to Lane intensifies, we’re forced to hide out in a remote, one-bedroom cabin with danger stalking us from all sides, but suddenly keeping the boss’s son safe isn’t enough.

    My new mission is to make Lane mine.


    Giorgio was one of the guys who helped the Marchesis thus earning him their friendship and loyalty. He was tasked to guard the son of X, the Vigilance boss. He was explicitly told to keep his hands off the young man. Said young man was also the guy he hooked up with the night before.

    I didn’t care much for the two MCs. Giorgio’s character was supposedly a grumpy, protective, alpha male but he’s so domineering he became one-dimensional. I didn’t like the way he treated Lane. Lane, fabulous and sparkly, did his best to shine. He would have but his appeal was dimmed by his instant capitulations and Giorgio’s looming presence.

    There’s not much going on here and most of it was Giorgio and Lane having sex too much too soon without protection. Also, I’m not a fan of the dom/sub kink so I was meh on the romance.

    However, this book set things in motion and introduced the various mainstays of Vigilance who each have their own books. I pushed on because I was invested in the rest of the vigilantes.

    Rating:
    2.5 Stars – far from hate but not quite a like

    Soundtrack: You Can Dominate Me
    Artist: Andy Samford
    Album: You Can Embrace Eternity’s Cosmic Truth


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    Vigilance: Niall – Silvia Violet

    I’m a former FBI agent. Now I’m on the opposite side of the law as part of an underground vigilante organization. When the fight to stop a crime ring pairs me with a pawn shop owner, it’s hate at first sight. Fun fact: Hate and desire aren’t mutually exclusive. To further the investigation, Marcus and I must pretend to be boyfriends. Too much time spent in close proximity has me wondering if Marcus might have the power to thaw my icy heart.


    Niall was also another member who was involved in helping the Marchesis. That’s where he met Marcus, the pawnshop owner who was assisting as well. They hated each other, hooked up once upon a time ago and now had to be fake boyfriends in order to infiltrate the human trafficking ring in an exclusive island estate.

    I liked this one much better. Niall and Marcus had more personalities. Niall tends to be more uptight and wears fancy suits that instantly pegged him as a fed. Marcus is more laid back, snarky and likes being control.

    Their relationship felt more like that of equals. They had a fun thing going with their antagonistic interactions. And Marcus was all protective dominant alpha male without trampling all over Niall

    This book was also better balanced in terms of various elements. Unlike Giorgio and Lane, Niall and Marcus were actually doing their jobs instead of boinking all the time. Also, Giorgio was more likable here now that he’s out and about.

    We are introduced to some bad guys and some whose motives are not yet clear. Their undercover investigation really moved a lot of things forward. And they were so close too. But the evil villain is one slippery mofo.

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: Surrender Your Heart
    Artist: Missing Persons
    Album: Rhyme & Reason


    Vigilance might not have the strongest openings but once you get past that, it’s easy to get hooked. It a fun, escapist series that’s light on drama and heavy on the action. Recommended for those looking for steamy BDSM-flavored romance with a side of crime-fighting.

    I also recommend reading The Marchesi Family to get the most out of the experience. Characters from that series appear here as well. Vigilance is best read in order. Leo’s and X’s stories are next. X is the one I’m most looking forward to. He’s so mysterious we don’t even have his real name yet.

    Check out my series review of The Marchesi Family here.


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    GIORGIO | NIALL | LEO

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    REVIEW: Down Low by Parker St. John

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    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!

    Rating:
    4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away

    Soundtrack: Son of a Preacher Man
    Artist: The John Does
    Album:


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    AUDIO REVIEW: Natural Twenty by Charlie Novak

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    Roll For Love: Natural Twenty – Charlie Novak

    Plants are easier than people—that’s Leo’s rule of thumb. After all, nobody really wants a man who looks like he belongs in a biker gang but would rather spend his time buried in books and flowers. It’s just easier to be single. Until he meets the owner of the new book shop.

    Jacob Morris knows two things: he’s really attracted to the man who runs the local flower shop, and he doesn’t date. Not when he’s still healing from a bad breakup, has a new business to run, game nights to organise, workshops to host, and a website to build.

    When friendship blooms into something more, Leo and Jay must decide whether to roll the dice and take a chance on love or keep forging ahead on their quests alone. Will their roll yield a one or a perfect, natural twenty?

    Natural Twenty is an 80,000-word contemporary MM romance featuring Dungeons & Dragons, secret flower language bouquets, a spoilt Staffy (or two), and a best friend who is basically a gothic prince. It is book one in the Roll for Love series and can be read as a standalone.


    When I picked this up, I had no idea what “natural twenty” meant. I learned later this refers to the roll of the twenty-sided dice in Dungeons and Dragons. If I understood it correctly, getting a natural twenty means maximum success.

    Natural Twenty is the first book of the geek-tastic series, Roll for Love. This is an insta-attraction, slow-burn, friends-to-lovers story of Leo, florist and Jay, bookseller. It’s packed full of all things geeky, from scifi and fantasy books, Dungeons and Dragons, cosplayers, steampunk conventions, superhero shows and pop culture references.

    Leo looks like a lion but is actually a kitten. His intimidating, taciturn exterior puts off a lot of people. They failed to notice underneath it all, there was a sweet, gentle giant who gives his heart too easily. His sole companion in life is his dog, Angie.

    Jay is an adorkable transplant from London, who left his old life after his ex cheated on him. He came to live with his friend, Edward, to mend his broken heart. Starting fresh, he bravely opened his own bookstore in Yorkshire. On his opening day, he received a welcome bouquet from Leo, who had decided to check out the new establishment in the neighborhood.

    The two struck a friendship but couldn’t deny the attraction between them. Friendship was slowly turning into an enjoyable, comfortable relationship when angst, internal conflict and struggling business got the better of Jay. He decided to put a temporary halt on things because he couldn’t handle all the pressure.

    This should actually be a more straightforward book. I couldn’t help but feel it should have been a lot shorter, perhaps a novella. Things could have been resolved a lot quicker.

    It showed Leo and Jay going about their day to day. This is fine, even enjoyable sometimes but there was too much internal dialogue. Mostly, I struggled with keeping my attention focused on the story. I felt the dreaded saggy middle. Happily, Joel Leslie’s fabulously on-point narration kept me going.

    And while I liked reading about the how-tos of running a small business, especially a bookstore, going through some business minutiae did feel a bit tedious at some points. Ditto with the Dungeons and Dragons part. Having never played the game, I couldn’t fully appreciate all the references.

    On the upside, the book had a lot of wonderful side-characters. Chief of whom is Edward, cosplayer and gothic prince, who basically stole the show. All the time I was reading, I kept thinking how much fun his book would be.

    My favorite part here was floriography, the language of flowers. Each chapter is marked with a flower and their meanings. I have zero interest in flowers but the way Leo put together his bouquets for Jay, carefully picking each flower and leaving pieces of his heart in each blossom, that was absolutely beautiful! Especially coming from a guy who struggles with words. It was such a deeply romantic and meaningful gesture. It made me appreciate flowers a little better.

    Things started picking up when Jay’s bookstore became viral. From then on, the story moved faster and I was able to enjoy it more. Despite my complaints about the draggy bits of the book, I still love the way Leo and Jay were brought together, first as friends, then as lovers and then later when they were reunited. It was a sweet, fluffy journey made more charming with some floral magic.

    All in all, Natural Twenty might not have rolled out maximum success but it’s still a good roll. Read if you love adorkable elven bards who sing Spice Girls offkey, gothic princes who drink in tea sets that match their wardrobe and most especially, gentle giants who speak in flowers.

    P.S.

    Thank you to Gay Romance Reviews and Audible UK for giving me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

    Rating:
    3 Stars – not exactly setting my world on fire but I liked it

    Soundtrack: Bloom
    Artist: RKCB
    Album:


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    SERIES REVIEW: Aster Valley Books 0.5 & 1 by Lucy Lennox

    Aster Valley is a contemporary romance series by Lucy Lennox. I think she’s one of the best writers of the genre. As I mentioned before, it’s hard for me to get into a pure contemporary romance book. But here, the author swept me along with her wonderfully written stories.

    The titular Aster Valley is a small town somewhere in the Colorado Mountains if I am not mistaken (sorry, I forgot the location). It’s formerly a ski resort town with it’s own unique charm that drew the characters in. The books are about the couples who eventually found a home here.


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    Aster Valley: Winter Waites – Lucy Lennox

    Gentry Kane is a rockstar I’ve been half in love with my whole life. And now he’s my patient.

    When Winter Waites knocks on the door to the snowy cabin where his next physical therapy patient awaits him, he has no idea his dream celebrity is on the other side. Gentry Kane is everything Winter has always fantasized about. But it was only a fantasy. What happens when Winter is faced with the flesh and blood man who wants more than physical therapy? Can one night in a cozy cabin lead to more? And how will that affect Winter’s growing career in the tiny, charming town of Aster Valley?


    Winter Waites is the prequel to the series. This is the story of how the famous rock star Gentry Kane found the love of his life among multitudes of fans in the middle of a concert.

    Occupational therapist Winter Waites has been a fan since the days Gentry Kane was singing in college campuses. To suddenly discover that your patient is not only your dream rock star but that dream rock star has been looking for you all this time, well, that’s mind blowing to say the least. It’s a highly improbable but very romantic premise. Don’t we all wish it would happened to us? Teen me would have been over the moon had Billie Joe Armstrong knew I existed.

    The story is very sweet and light on the angst. I loved how the author ramped up that awkward, tension-filled first meeting between them. I felt that scene! It’s easy to see how, beyond the physical attraction, Gentry would fall in love with the gentle, caring soul that is Winter. I didn’t even mind the insta-ness of it all. It was kismet.

    The only thing here was that Gentry’s hand was injured, which was why he needed a therapist in the first place. Winter was telling him he needed to keep in a brace. Then they had sex without putting Gentry’s hand back in the brace. All the while, I’m like, dude, your hand! Your hand!

    Rating:
    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

    Soundtrack: I Will Wait
    Artist: Mumford & Sons
    Album: Babel


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    Aster Valley: Right As Raine – Lucy Lennox

    Tiller:

    As the first openly gay professional football player, I can’t afford to make any mistakes, on or off the field. And the absolute biggest mistake I could make right now would be to fall for Mikey Vining, my best friend, employee and, more importantly, Coach’s baby boy. I might fantasize about Mikey at night–every night-but actually touching him would be a serious personal foul.

    And falling for him? That’s completely out of bounds.

    Mikey:

    I’ve learned my lesson about falling for one of my dad’s players. They’re a bunch of spoiled jocks with more muscles than brains. I’ve spent years learning to keep my eyes, and my hands, to myself. But resisting the temptation becomes nearly impossible when Tiller Raine and I end up together in a small cabin in a remote Colorado town.

    Suddenly, there’s not much to do but look at each other. And talk. And hopefully, hopefully touch.

    But what happens when our stay in Aster Valley is over and it’s time to return to the real world? Will Coach blow the whistle on our relationship? Or will Tiller admit there might actually be something he loves more than football after all?


    Right As Raine is the nerd/jock, forbidden romance of football star, Tiller Raine, and Michael Vining, his personal assistant/chef/coach’s son/long-time crush he couldn’t live without.

    Tiller is an award-winning, highest paid pro athlete. Also a lovable gentle giant who adores his coach’s son. I loved how he calls him “my Mikey“.

    Mikey is feisty, talented, ambitious and hardworking. He’s been crushing on his boss for the longest time but keeps his hands off. I really liked Mikey for keeping it professional. His family is shit. They say they accept him as gay but then go out of their way to exclude him.

    As with the prequel, the story is very sweet, and fluffy. It is mostly light until the later part. I loved the slow-burn-ness of it all. The book really took time to build up the simmering feelings between Tiller and Raine, resulting in delicious anticipation and fabulous chemistry. Their shift from friends to lovers felt so natural and very easy yet very satisfying.

    There’s a bit of angst involved with Mikey having to deal with his homophobic dad. The coach is a manipulative bastard, a homophobe who pretends to be accepting but underhandedly sabotages Mikey and discourages Tiller from openly pursuing relationships.

    The scene where Mikey confronts the bastard was difficult for me to go through. Not because it was badly written but because of all the negative emotions the evil dad generated. I nearly dropped the book so again, good job to the author for the effective writing.

    The rest of the Aster Valley boys were awesome. Gentry and Winter make appearances as well as Mikey’s best friend, Sam, and the cute geek, Truman, who will be paired with him in the next book.

    All in all, Right As Raine is a heartfelt, comfort read. The family drama might pull you out of it but stick around because it is ultimately, a very rewarding book.

    Rating:
    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

    Soundtrack: All I Wanna Do
    Artist: Piotr & Sans Kar
    Album:

    P.S.

    Aster Valley books can be read as standalones but I recommend reading them in order to get the best experience. The boys will make it worth your while.


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    RIGHT AS RAINE

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    REVIEW: Eddie: Grime Doesn’t Pay by Z.A. Maxfield

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    The Brothers Grime: Eddie: Grime Doesn’t Pay – Z.A. Maxfield

    Loving oneself can be a dirty job…

    Eddie and Andrew have dynamite chemistry, except Eddie is profoundly dyslexic, and Andrew lives to read. Andrew is pathologically disorganized, and Eddie likes things neat and clutter-free.

    Andrew is desperately ashamed of his hoarder father–a secret that could pull them apart even as a friend’s tragedy brings them together.

    When Andrew’s father’s condition deteriorates and he nearly dies because of his compulsion, Eddie and Andrew must learn compassion begins with loving one’s self in Eddie: Grime Doesn’t Pay.


    Eddie hardly made on-page appearances on Jack: Grime and Punishment but the man turned out to be the best Grime Brother yet!

    The Brothers Grime is the titular company co-owned by three friends, Jack, a retired firefighter, his cousin Gage, and their friend, Eddie. They specialized in industrial clean ups, mostly violent crime scenes and biohazards.

    Eddie: Grime Doesn’t Pay shows the The Brothers Grime cleaning up other nasty spots aside from crime scenes. They tackled a problem rarely featured in books: hoarding.

    This is also a book about teachers. Eddie’s childhood had been heavily impacted by teachers and even as an adult, they continue to change his life.

    Eddie was forever pining for his niece’s teacher. Trying his damnedest to impress in his best threads whenever he drops his beloved niece to school, he was often reduced to an awkward mess whenever he tried to talk to Andrew. Andrew tends to drop some book references in an effort to engage his student’s attractive uncle. Eddie ends up running away, leaving the other man wondering what had he done wrong?

    Unbeknownst to most, Eddie has dyslexia so reading is a struggle for him. This made him feel his crush was out of his league.

    I really liked how the story handled Eddie’s issues. Eddie doesn’t go out of his way to let people know he had a learning disability and he did feel “orcish” as he puts it, when he was with Andrew’s erudite friends. However, it did a great job portraying how Eddie adapted and overcame the obstacles. He developed an effective system that helped him with his daily tasks. It was uplifting and really showed how far Eddie had gone, from having teachers give up on him to becoming a successful businessman.

    There was a teacher who never gave up on Eddie though. Mrs. Henderson saw his true grit and helped him channel his energy. And so Eddie became Eddie ‘Cha Cha’ Vasquez, busting out dance moves no one can beat.

    Mrs. Henderson was also the teacher who brought Eddie and Andrew together many years after. One day, Andrew found her very disoriented in their campus. He called for help. Later, they found out she has dementia and her husband was dead for a week. Dave, Eddie’s detective friend, called him knowing this was relevant to Eddie. He quickly took responsibility to make sure his former teacher was properly cared for.

    I liked Andrew a lot at the start. He was funny, flirty and spontaneous. He jived fabulously with Eddie once they broke the ice. But he had his own dirty secret though. His father is a hoarder and Andrew was ashamed of the state his house was in. It was so bad police gave the older man an ultimatum to clean up or lose his house.

    Andrew really had a tough time handling this. It brought out some of his unflattering characteristics that made me feel less keen about him.

    But this is where Eddie shines the brightest. He was the nicest, most understanding, most patient teddy bear ever! He talked sense into his panicking boyfriend, offered unconditional support and he even volunteered to have his company clean the house pro bono. The best thing here was that he, profoundly dyslexic, completely understood what the hoarded books meant to Andrew’s father. I loved the connection he established with his father-in-law.

    This had the cuteness and lightness that was mostly missing in Jack’s book. The serious themes were deftly balanced by the humor. The first half of the story showcased the delicious USTs between Eddie and Andrew in the best way possible. The couple remained strong throughout even with the meltdowns and blow ups.

    The crew pitched in to help. They were as awesome as before and I loved reading about them. The group dynamics really worked so well. Jack and his boyfriend, Ryan, made a few appearances here and there. Gage had major page-time. I have yet to understand what he sees in Dave. The detective is still an asshole but their book is next so that might shed some light on his mysterious appeal.

    The Brother Grime‘s most notorious employee, Skippy, is my favorite. I need his book! His wife, Kelly-Ann, sounds quite a character herself. We only hear about her from Skippy but she made an impression. How did a former mob enforcer turned industrial cleaner and a tarot card reading woman who believes cats steal breath from babies end up together? Inquiring minds are dying to know!

    Eddie: Grime Doesn’t Pay took the series up a notch. It’s a great mix of levity and angst. It had gritty details and a whole lot of heart. It is a story about family, self-acceptance, coping with a loved one’s mental illness and appreciating triumphs no matter how small. Eddie really went above and beyond with his kindness and compassion. So it’s no surprise that he became the teacher’s pet.

    P.S.

    The Brothers Grime books is best read in order. Find out how his dead first love led Jack to the love of his life in book 1, Jack: Grime and Punishment.

    Rating:
    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

    Soundtrack: The Hand Of A Teacher
    Artist: Public Affection / Live
    Album: The Death Of A Dictionary


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    EDDIE: GRIME DOESN’T PAY

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    REVIEW: My Whole World by Davidson King

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    Joker’s Sin: My Whole World – Davidson King

    Atlas Durand’s whole world is built from the spoils of his past. Joker’s Sin is the most popular gay club in all of Haven Hart. Many clubs have come and gone, none able to compete with Atlas and his enigmatic power over his patrons. He would do anything to keep it thriving and anyone who stands in his way will be met with serious regrets.

    Toby St. Claire hates working at Vick’s Tricks and longs for his nights off so he can go to Joker’s Sin. Like everyone who steps foot into Atlas’s club, he’s taken by the owner himself and the magical pulse that owns him when he’s there. Joker’s Sin is Toby’s escape from his life and Atlas is his dream come true.

    When Toby’s boss realizes he can use Toby to help take down Joker’s Sin and make Vick’s Tricks the club to beat in Haven Hart, it turns everything upside down. Lies, deceit, and corruption threaten to tear Atlas and Toby apart. Is their love strong enough to survive it all or will they become victims of mayhem?


    I became curious about Davidson King’s Haven Hart universe after I listened to her interview in the Big Gay Fiction Podcast. I’ve seen her books around but was hesitant to start on her main Haven Hart series because there are a lot of books released.

    Joker’s Sin is the spin-off series that can be read as standalone. There are going to be only 4 installments so the odds of finishing the entire thing is high. Each major player in the Joker’s Sin club will have their own books. Three book are out so far.

    The series opens with My Whole World, the story of club owner, Atlas Durand. He is an uber-charismatic showman, loved by all who frequents his club. He runs a tight ship and puts an even tighter lock around his heart due to a tragic past that explains why his club is named that way. I pictured him as the magnificent Lenny Kravitz.

    His three closest friends work in the club. Ledger is DJ Edge. Max is in charge of the bar. Zero is head of security. Together, they make the club the hottest place to be in Haven Hart. I have no favorite character among them yet but they are interesting enough for me to want to get to know them better.

    The love interest here is Toby St. Claire. Toby is a club regular who had a hopeless crush on Atlas. His ultimate dream is to be noticed by the great man. Toby is sweet. Sadly, that seems to be all he is. Among the important characters, he was the one I least connected to. I agreed with one GR reviewer who did not like his character’s narration. His voice was overacted by the narrator in the audiobook. Toby’s exaggerated reactions were more annoying than amusing. As a result, I wasn’t feeling the romance.

    I’d love for Atlas to find a new love after what he had been through but I just didn’t feel his connection to Toby was that strong. I see it more of his protective instincts reacting to a sweet, gorgeous young man in need of help. The way their romance unfolded came across to me like we were told rather than shown. Although, there were scenes, like that lovely dance, that showed them forming connections. This issue is a ME thing because many people enjoyed their love story.

    One thing I liked about MM romances is that there is this nice tradition where the writers give the lead female characters little happy endings of their own. I’m giving this a mention because that mini arc about Tobi’s twin sister, Poppy, and hacker/bodyguard, Desi, piqued my interest more than the main couple.

    Haven Hart is home to many crime families. Toby works in the rival bar, Vick’s Tricks, owned by one of the minor crooks, Vic Kelly. When his abusive boss learned that he won a date with Atlas and was even offered a job at his club, he tasked Toby to gather intel on Joker’s Sin. If he fails, Poppy would pay the price. This put Toby in a difficult situation.

    I wasn’t particularly pleased with how he handled it. It’s understandable that he’s scared for his sister but I’m not a fan of the lies. Altas gave him several chances to come clean. The big man made it clear he was willing to help whatever the trouble was but Toby kept prevaricating.

    What kept me reading was Joker’s Sin, both the club and the person. I liked how they came alive. I enjoyed getting a glimpse of the inner workings of a club. Even though I don’t go clubbing at all, I love the vibe of clubs. It’s that palpable energy generated whenever there’s a crowd enjoying great music. I can see why people keep coming back to Atlas’ place. I’d love to be there myself.

    Joker the person was hell of a lot compelling. I wanted to know more about him. His history with Atlas was an entire book in itself. I was actually rooting hard for him and Atlas even though I knew how it played out. I wished this was their happy ending.

    While I wasn’t a fan of Altas and Toby’s romance, it still felt organic to the entire story. It had a pretty solid plot that moved things quickly so I wasn’t bored. There were a lot of things happening that kept my attention. I liked how they resolved the Vic Kelly situation because that’s where Wong, the Chinese mob boss, came in. His appearance was short but he made an impression. I’m keen to read a book about him.

    My Whole World was an effective series opener. My first visit to Haven Hart was a mixed bag but I’m already invested in this world. I liked how it connects to the bigger Haven Hart universe, enticing me to explore the other books. The author did an outstanding job integrating various elements from the main series and presenting them from new perspectives. Long-time readers would enjoy the easter eggs scattered about.

    This is a must-read if you are a fan. If you’re new to the author or a first-time visitor to this colorful town, Joker’s Sin is a good place to start.

    P.S.

    You can listen to Davidson King’s interview here.

    Rating:
    3.5 Stars – that place between like and love

    Soundtrack: Dance With Me
    Artist: Alphaville
    Album: Afternoons In Utopia


    If you like my content, please consider using my Amazon affiliate links below to get your copy of My Whole World. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying Amazon purchases at no additional cost to you.

    Kindle
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    You can also use my Bookshop affiliate links to buy paperback copies and help support independent bookstores.

    MY WHOLE WORLD

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