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.
Thank you to Gay Romance Reviews and Audible UK for giving me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
3 Stars – not exactly setting my world on fire but I liked it
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Double Trouble: Double Or Nothing – Cari Z & L.A. Witt
Rich Cody joined the U.S. Marshals to hunt down bad guys, not babysit witnesses. Orders are orders, though, and now he’s protecting a hacker with ties to the Albanian and Sicilian mobs. It’s just another exciting day in WITSEC.
Leotrim Nicolosi was born into a world of crime and bloodshed. When that bloodshed hits too close to home, taking down Leo’s boyfriend—the son of a notorious mob boss—Leo is determined to destroy the Grimaldi family. He’s got evidence that will send every last Grimaldi to prison, he’s got the family’s wealth in an electronic chokehold, and he’s got a vendetta that can only be settled with the blood of the man who killed his lover.
When a routine transfer to a safehouse goes horribly wrong, Rich and Leo narrowly escape with their lives. With the Marshals compromised and Leo being framed for murder, he and Rich are on the run from criminals and law enforcement alike. They have no one to trust except each other, and nowhere to go that their enemies can’t reach.
And the only way out might mean making a deal with the Devil.
This novel is approximately 77,000 words.
How far will you go to keep a witness safe?
Rich Cody found out exactly how far the hard way when he was assigned Leotrim Nicolosi, a hacker holding information that will bring mafia families down. His transfer to a safehouse went to shit and the Marshal and his witness found themselves on the run from not only the Albanian and Sicilian mob but from several law enforcement agencies as well. There was no one they can trust, not the police nor the US Marshals, nor the FBI. The mob has a long reach.
Double Or Nothing hit the ground running with a shootout that set the fast-paced action/suspense vibe throughout the book. There was no rest for the weary, Rich and Leo were constantly on the move, driving from one point of the American heartland to the opposite end. The only downtime they had was in the missile silo/bunker when they asked Rich’s marine buddy for help.
I loved how the authors kept several levels of tension going. The book was very effective in the giving off that constant sense of danger hanging like the Sword of Damocles over Rich and Leo’s heads. Meanwhile, the sexual tension was a simmering slow burn that went nuclear in the missile silo.
Beyond their romantic connection, there was Rich’s unwavering loyalty to his witness and his duty as a Marshal. I loved his dogged determination to see things through to the end. Grieving the loss of his lover, Leo is equally determined to bring down his killers. The two men took on an entire mob. They didn’t hold anything back.
The book would make a great action movie. There’s a lot of explosions and gunfights and car chases that will keep you on the edge of your seat. There were twists and turns, double crosses and close calls. It was one heck of a mission.
There was one scene at the end, where they both just went through hell and Rich thought he lost Leo. That part where he was hugging him while shaking with shock and exhaustion was one of the most poignant moments. You can really feel his heart exploding with emotions. Mine did just that.
So just how far will you go to keep a witness safe? For US Marshall Rich Cody, all the way.
Double Trouble is a duology and best read when you already have both books in hand. Double Or Nothing ends with a cliffhanger. Rich and Leo’s mission continues in Doubling Down.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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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.
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!
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Aster Valley: Right As Raine – Lucy Lennox
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.
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.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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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Paranormal Princes is one the most enjoyable shifter series I have ever read.
When I started on the series, I wasn’t that familiar yet with Charlie Cochet‘s writing. My first experience with her early shifter stories was a miss. This was soon put to rights by the hilarious and adorable The Prince and His Bedeviled Bodyguard. This is the first novella about an ocelot shifter prince who had to go on a quest accompanied by a grim wolf shifter acting as his bodyguard. It had all the humor and charm I have come to associate with the author.
Paranormal Princes is set in an alt-universe where all kinds of shifters exist, everything from hummingbirds to whales. Not just shifters but fae, ancients gods and mythical creatures too.
The father and King of All Shifters is Alarick. With the help of his advisor and long-time friend, Jean, he designs a quest for each shifter prince or princess. They are accompanied by a companion, chosen for them by the king. Many of his children were not happy with it. That is, until they realized it was for the best.
Paranormal Princes: The Prince and His Captivating Carpenter – Charlie Cochet
As Prince of the Bear Shifters, I knew the time would come for me to prove myself worthy of my crown. I expected my quest to be perilous. What I didn’t expect was for it to take me up into Espen Mountain, a place that’s brought me nothing but grief and terrible nightmares. Not only must I find the five magical ingredients, but I have to do so alongside Saer, a mysterious and charming shifter coyote summoned by the king to be my guide. But who is Saer, and why do I feel as if we’ve met before?
Crushing on Prince Bernd from afar was one thing. Being given the responsibility of saving the prince and his kingdom was a whole other story. Banished from my kingdom by my own prince years ago, I never imagined I would be summoned to help Bernd. What could I possibly offer a prince? How was I supposed to save him? I was no one. A shifter with no place to call home. What I did know was that I would do everything in my power to help Bernd succeed on his quest. All I had to do was stop crushing on the guy, find the magical ingredients hidden up a dangerous mountain, and save his heart. What could go wrong?
Prince Bernd is the Prince of Bear Shifters. He inherited the throne after his father died a tragic death in Espen Mountain. Bernd is still mourning his death years after. He closed himself off, spending more and more time in the library amidst the beautiful furniture lovingly made for him. The Prince is hot-tempered but he is devoted to his mom and his siblings. He takes his responsibilities to them and his kingdom seriously.
Then the fateful day arrived when the king assigned him his quest to the very same mountain his father died. He was to be accompanied by Saer who will act as his guide. Attractive though he was, Bernd couldn’t understand why the king chose him. Saer was a complete stranger.
The Prince and His Captivating Carpenter is a story of grief and healing. It’s not as funny as the first book but it had plenty of cute moments too. Saer was all adorably shy and awkward during their first meeting. He had been crushing on the prince for a very long time. The prince, unfortunately, didn’t even know he existed.
I was neutral about Bernd for much of the story. For their quest, it was really Saer who did most of the work. However, their adventure opened the prince’s eyes to the realities of his kingdom as well as the beautiful things he missed because of his grief.
Like all the books in the series, the romance was wonderfully done. It was interwoven seamlessly with the overarching thread. The chemistry between Bernd and Saer was so palpable, even they couldn’t deny there was something between them. Bernd might be the biggest, most powerful bear but he was also a teddy bear.
The ending played out as expected. There were not many surprises here. It did, however, provide a nice jumping off point for the final book.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
Paranormal Princes: The King and His Vigilant Valet – Charlie Cochet
The past has a way of catching up with you, even if you are immortal. I’ve spent thousands of years as the valet and companion to the powerful King of All Shifters. It has been my honor and duty to protect, serve, and advise him. I never intended to fall in love with him. My past is filled with death and bloodshed, but I never once regretted keeping Alarick safe. Now an evil I thought long gone has resurfaced, determined to kill Alarick and plunge the world into chaos. Saving Alarick means revealing the truth about myself. I don’t know what’s worse, failing to protect the king I love, or watching him turn away from me in disgust when he discovers what I really am.
As King of All Shifters, my powers are connected to the cosmos, and I have been around since the dawn of time. There are few things that can kill me. Unfortunately, one of those things has escaped its prison and is set to destroy me. The only weapon that can defeat this creature is the Scythe of Kronos, which has been missing for nearly as long as I have lived. When Jean and I set out on a quest to find the scythe, questions I had long ignored must now be answered. What is Jean’s connection to this evil? Why will he trust me with his life but not his secrets? As my most trusted valet, and my greatest friend, surely nothing that happens along this perilous journey can change what I feel in my heart for him. Or can it?
Now here is a love story thousands of years in the making. Talk about slow burn!
As many reader might notice from the start, King Alarick is a doofus. He is spectacularly oblivious to his best friend’s more than friendly feelings towards him.
Jean has been with the king for a very, very long time. He was actually the one who designed the quests. Jean is very loyal to Alarick. Despite being blind, he is the king’s fiercest, most formidable warrior. He developed quite an intimidating reputation. He is also very mysterious. Not even Alarick knew what kind of creature he is.
Alarick and Jean’s story picks up directly after the second book. A threat to the king’s life was revealed. This was connected to Jean’s past, something he had long since buried. The monster can only be killed by the Scythe of Kronos.
The two friends embarked on a quest to look for the weapon. Along the way, they met several of the king’s shifter children who wanted to help. They met some of his past flames too. Jealous Jean is cute Jean.
I love how the king doesn’t mind that people were pissed at him, most of the characters here were. But when somebody tries to talk smack about Jean, he puts the bitch in place. He does it firmly in the nicest way possible because the king is a genial, easygoing sort of guy. I have never seen him lose his temper, ever. Not even when whacked half-way across the ocean by an irate siren.
The Prince and His Vigilant Valet is the best kind of shmoopy, squeetastic fluff! When I first met them, it seemed Alarick and Jean’s dynamics was that of the bumbling superior and the wise assistant. But here we see a new side to the always composed Jean, a flustered blushy side that’s freakin’ adorable! Alarick was a lot smarter than people give him credit for. And he was just so infinitely kind. It was that very goodness that made Jean fall in love with him all those years ago dancing together at the Parthenon.
And damn, the twists were so clever! All the things that were built up since book one came together beautifully. The scene where all the shifter princes rally to defend their king was as epic as that scene where all the Avengers and their friends popped out of portals to fight Thanos. The revelations were very unexpected. I would never have guessed the real purpose of the quests and Jean’s true identity. And why he is blind.
All in all, a grand and very sweet finale fit for the immortal king who started it all.
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
Paranormal Princes should be read in order. Start by meeting the
adorablediva prince Owin and the valiant warrior Grimm in The Prince and His Bedeviled Bodyguard. And oh, don’t call Owin adorable (at least not to his face). He prefers fierce.
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THE PRINCE AND HIS BEDEVILED BODYGUARD
THE PRINCE AND HIS CAPTIVATING CARPENTER
THE KING AND HIS VIGILANT VALET0