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.
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.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Psychic Detective Mysteries: Shadows Deceive – S.C. Wynne
If I could have put off meeting Thompson’s family forever, I would have. But he made it crystal clear it was important to him, and I got the feeling if I blew it off again, I’d lose him.
So, like a good boyfriend, I accompanied him to the rustic city of Big Bear, hoping for the best. I expected awkward moments, and funny looks from his family. What I didn’t see coming was having to hang out with his perfect ex-lover, Alexander, and for dead bodies to start piling up.
Working and living together, Thompson and I formed a bond I didn’t think could be broken. But when he starts doubting my abilities, and pulling away, simply because he doesn’t like what I’m saying, I start to realize maybe we were never as tight as I’d thought.
Thompson needs to decide if he wants to protect the past, more than he wants to join me in the future. He thinks I’m just scared of commitment, and so I’m causing trouble. But the reality is, Thompson is the person with one foot out the door.
Shadows Deceive is the third installment of the psychic procedural series, Psychic Detective Mysteries. It follows psychic/police consultant Liam Baker and his partner/boyfriend, Detective Kimball Thompson as they solve murders with the help of Liam’s ability to talk to ghosts.
The first two books were about Liam and Thompson trying to catch a powerful evil psychic, Stephen Pine, who was killing several people and was out to get Liam. Meanwhile, Liam was grieving the loss of his late boyfriend, Will, while Thompson, Will’s partner, patiently waited for Liam to notice him.
Book 3 sees the two men as an established couple which means it was time to meet the family.
The story is from Liam’s POV and you really had to feel it for the guy. Our boy is most definitely not a people person. Not only does he have to stay with Thompson’s family for two weeks, he has to deal with Thompson’s very attractive, very accomplished, very charming ex, Alexander, who the family considers one of their own. The man even ate dinner with them almost everyday Liam was there. And, the poor psychic also stumbled upon a dead body near the family house. So you could see his pain here.
His situation is the bane of introverts everywhere. And you got to hand it to Liam, he was really, really, really trying. He sucked it up and played nice. The book did a great job laying out Liam’s insecurities and the valiant way he tried to be a good boyfriend and to do his job professionally no matter how compromised his partner was. He has grown so much as a character. He came a long way from a grief-stricken man to someone who can hold is own against evil forces. I was neutral about him before but he really won me over here.
Thompson’s family was awesome. His mom especially. The part that made her stood out for me was that she was very perceptive. She knew Liam was hurting. She wasn’t blind to her son’s faults and Alexander’s manipulative side.
Meanwhile, Thompson needed to grovel more because he was being extra obtuse to how much he was hurting his beloved boyfriend by being chummy with the ex. Liam and Thompson’s relationship was tested almost to the breaking point. It was excruciating to watch. Don’t get me wrong, Thompson adores Liam. I liked him in the past 2 books. This Alex thing just wasn’t his shining moment.
The story is a great blend of romance, mystery and paranormal. The mystery didn’t hold much surprises. It was glaringly obvious who the killer was, especially with another dead body popping up. Far from making it boring, I liked how it worked well with the plot, adding another layer of insidious evil for Liam to conquer. I did wonder though if it would have been better or worse, story-wise, if he knew the identity of the killer right away and had to convince Thompson about it.
The plot also connects to the main villain, Stephen Pine. He is currently in jail. I wish that was the last we see of him because I’m not looking forward to his repeat performance. Alas, it is hinted we should expect a comeback in future installments
Shadows Deceive is a story about trust, family, standing up for one’s self and holding on to what’s important. It was emotional and engaging and still suspenseful even with the element of predictability. This is the best book so far. I am eager to see more of Liam’s curmudgeon-y self getting together with ghosts, serial killers, co-workers, in-laws and who knows what. Expecting better of Thompson this time.
Psychic Detective Mysteries should be read in order. Find out more about this Stephen Pine business in the first two books, Shadow’s Edge and Shadow’s Return. I read both but didn’t review Book 2. Check out my review of Book 1, Shadow’s Edge here.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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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!
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
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