I grabbed this series on a whim because I like the word ‘solnyshko.’ I was glad it was the weekend because I ended up reading until 5:00 AM. I finished the first book in one sitting. This duet is just sooo good.
Now this might not be most people’s cup of tea. This comes with a list of warnings, from homophobia to graphic violence and PTSD. Things get nasty, even horrific, at some points. So please do head the TWs.
Beyond all that darkness, this is a story of ‘two broken people who found each other,‘ according to the author’s notes. It all started with a kidnapping…
The Solnyshko Duet: The Kidnapping Of Roan Sinclair – Ashlyn Drewek
Roan Sinclair’s life is perfect, just ask anyone. Set to graduate college and bound for grad school at Georgetown, Roan’s life has been all planned out for him. Except, he doesn’t want it. Dedicated to his music, he dreams of a life free from his parents’ expectations. Those dreams are gone the minute he’s kidnapped by a group of Russians, led by the tall, dark, and broody Sasha — a man ripped straight from Roan’s fantasies. Determined to make it out alive, Roan will do whatever is necessary to secure his freedom, even if that means seducing his captor.
Aleksandr Vassiliev doesn’t care about anything except surviving in a merciless world. Known as the Wolf of Verkhoyansk, Sasha’s reputation for brutality is far-reaching and well-deserved. When a bank robbery goes wrong, he’ll do whatever he can to fix it — including kidnapping the bank owner’s son. Instead of complying like he should, Roan defies Sasha at every turn. Worst of all, he makes Sasha want things he can’t have, things that are a death sentence for men like him. Things like Roan Sinclair.
Content warning: This book contains references to alcohol/drug use, sexual assault, graphic violence, self-harm, ethnic and homosexual slurs, and a lot of profanity. Reader discretion is advised.
Roan Sinclair is a poor little rich boy trapped in a gilded cage. Music is his passion, but his banker dad blackmailed him to take a business major. He has one year to go before he leaves for business school.
Aleksandr ‘Sacha’ Vassiliev is a feared, ruthless killer, not a bank robber and certainly not a kidnapper. But when a bank heist had gone wrong, a heist they didn’t fully understand why they had to do, he and his fellow bratva members were forced to change tactics. They kidnapped the banker’s son instead.
It wasn’t the most ideal meeting, to say the least, but right from the get-go, Roan got under Sacha’s skin. Given his environment, the Russian is deeply in the closet. But he pinged Roan’s gaydar, and our boy used it to his advantage.
One of the things I really loved about the books was the writing. There were no long paragraphs, and it’s very easy to read. The prose is straight to the point. Just 3-4 sentences per paragraph, yet they conveyed everything the reader needs to know. You feel the emotions jumping off the page. The graphic bits were written to show the nastiness without being gratuitous.
Thawing the cold, dead heart of a man like Sacha is an impossible feat. Our boy Roan not only brought it back to life, but he became the center of Sacha’s universe. I was completely riveted to their journey, swept away by a tide of emotions. The story is devastating, painful, and, as mentioned, quite dark. But the lighter moments when they come is as heart-warming and bright as the proverbial solnyshko the duet is named after.
It ends with a HFN but this is one of the best Stockholm Syndrome romances for me!
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
The Solnyshko Duet: The Vengeance Of Roan Sinclair – Ashlyn Drewek
After a lifetime of death and suffering, Aleksandr Vassiliev finally has everything he could ever want — the most important being someone to share his future with. Somehow a spoiled American named Roan gave Sasha a reason to see life could be more. Except, that’s where the fairytale ends. He’s not surprised Roan hasn’t been the same since his attack, but with every day that passes, Sasha sees less and less of the boy he fell in love with. He would do anything to get his Solnyshko back, but old enemies from Sasha’s past might end up costing him everything, even Roan.
Roan Sinclair used to have it all. Now? He’s a shell of his former self. No longer the rich, carefree college guy who brought a Russian criminal to his knees, all he’s trying to do is recover from an assault that nearly killed him. Roan knows he should be grateful to be alive… but he’s not. He’s humiliated. Ashamed. Most of all, he’s angry. He hasn’t forgotten the part his dad played in everything that happened and when he threatens Sasha’s freedom, Roan takes a page from the Russian’s playbook. Maybe vengeance will piece him back together. Maybe then Roan can move on and get to the happily ever after he so desperately wants with the Wolf of Verkhoyansk.
Content warning: This book contains references to alcohol/smoking, ethnic and homosexual slurs, sexual assault, mental health issues including PTSD and depression, on-page torture, and a lot of profanity. Reader discretion is advised.
The second book picks up on the aftermath of the very traumatic events of Book 1. Roan is not in a good place, and Sacha is at his wit’s end. He does everything he thinks would help Roan, but the younger man isn’t taking it well.
Here we have the major presence of Misha, Sacha’s boss, who is also sort of a friend and Misha’s nephew, Ilya. Sacha hired the young man to be Roan’s bodyguard. The easy going man provided a normalcy in Roan’s life during these troubled times.
Misha has intrigued me since Book 1. He offers Sacha advice on his Roan situation. Where Sacha is a grumpy mofo, Misha is all easy smiles. But make no mistake, they are both wolves. I am so thrilled the bratva boss is going to have his own book!
I struggled for a bit in the first part because going through Sacha and Roan’s rocky patch wasn’t a pleasant experience. It was angsty and raw. Communication isn’t their strongest suit, and you can really feel how bad they were struggling. All of these is worth going through just to get to the part where Roan smiles and Sacha declares, his sun is back!
And that’s when we get to the vengeance portion of the story. Roan wants revenge for what his father did, and a ghost from the past is out to get Sacha. I really enjoyed this arc because it felt happier and lighter despite the gruesome bratva business.
Sacha and Roan evolved to become the power couple they were meant to be. The pace here was also smoother and faster, and there was more action. Characters from the author’s other series popped up, the very mysterious Leander and his flamboyant husband, Bennet. I must investigate these two.
Both books go through suspenseful, brutal climaxes where the piper is paid in blood and gore. But this time, the ending is a solid and very satisfying HEA. It was such a sweet and uplifting conclusion that sensation of relief was very palpable. I couldn’t ask for a better one for Sasha and Roan! Sometimes all you need in life is a new lease and some sunshine.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
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Better The Devil You Know – Bey Deckard
This is not a romance.
Tags: graphic torture, murder, paranormal, forced incest, rape
Byron is tall, handsome, well spoken, wealthy, and has outstanding taste in wine and food. You’ll be impressed by his impeccable attire and eloquence in conversation, ranging from Baroque art to the newest advances in pharmacology. With his charming smile and elegant manners, Byron truly is the perfect date… and who doesn’t love a man who appreciates opera?
What’s the catch, you ask?
Just this: if Byron finds you suitable, he will subject you to utterly depraved forms of torture.
No, I’m not talking about S&M.
Byron will mutilate, rape, and then kill you. Don’t think that you will survive the encounter, because you won’t.
He has a perfect record.
Intrigued? Would you like me to arrange a rendezvous? It has to be in the next few days because he’s leaving on a trip south to much warmer climes, and his calendar will be completely full.
Yes? Very good. I will make a reservation for two under the name of Smith.
Who am I? I’m Gloria, his personal assistant.
This is where a very bad man goes to hell to give the Devil what he deserves.
Better The Devil You Know is most definitely not for the faint of heart. Please do heed the trigger warnings. As mentioned in the blurb, this is not a romance. This is paranormal horror. If you like it painful and gruesome, this one takes it to the extreme.
Byron was a former doctor who uses his money to cover up his many illicit activities. With the help of his uber-efficient assistant, Gloria, he seduces men then later turns them into his playthings. With his medical knowledge, he prolongs his victim’s life and inflicts the sickest, most depraved tortures you can ever imagine.
This sicko has no redeeming qualities what so ever. There’s no redemption, no turning over a new leaf at the end. But I have to say, boy is he charming!
This is a story that feels very much like its main character. Dark, monstrous, sickening, terrifying but somehow you are still drawn to it. The sheer force of Byron’s charisma compels one to stay, makes one curious, keeps one interested.
Each chapter is shown through the eyes of Byron’s many victims. All too often, it is a tale of hapless young men drawn to the handsome gentleman with impeccable taste and perfect manners, only to find out too late that this beauty is worst than a beast.
It’s very intense to go through these men’s thoughts as they writhe in agony and breathe their last breaths. The author gave them names, faces, voices and backstories. It makes their plight even more heart-breaking knowing that two brothers just wanting a new car or a gay immigrant just wanting to make a connection unknowingly threw themselves into the hands of a monster
There are a couple of mysteries presented in the book. One is Michael, Byron’s last date. Why does this young man seem vaguely familiar? Gloria became a mystery as the story progressed. Who exactly is this assistant who seem almost too good at her job?
Then there is Lucifer. Luce to his friends. Never ever Lucie. Wondering what would it take to break a man like Byron. The Lord Of Hell has always been a fascinating character. Here, he’s fabulous, if perpetually bored. Seeing him light up when he talks to Byron, well, I couldn’t help but ship the two. But again, this is not romance. Fantastic chemistry notwithstanding, Luce is too good for the likes of Byron. Yes, the man is that bad.
There are so many clever twists and turns. Everything came together in a thrilling climax. It was a something I half expected since it felt like the logical conclusion given the set-up. I just didn’t know how exactly it would be done. The other half was something like Luce and Byron plotting elaborate methods of soul rehabilitation together. Would have loved to see that.
Either way, I loved how things were resolved. It does have its own kind of happy ending for the two, Because really, when I think about it, take away all the blood and gore, Better The Devil You Know is a story about one hell of a job promotion.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
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Flesh And Bone: Bleed – Joel Abernathy
My purpose, carved deeper into my soul than their names carved in my flesh.
The man who took everything from me, my own personal devil in shifting flesh.
My pack. The high-born family of wolves I’ve sworn my life to protect, even if my dying breath is pledged to another.
My everything. Friend, confidant, enemy, lover. Most dangerous of all, he would become the reason I lived if I let him. He is the one thing I won’t allow Dominic to take from me. Love is not a luxury I can afford, but the sweetness of revenge has nothing on the taste of him…
I knew I would like this so much better than the first book!
If ever there was a time to use the expression “my heart was ripped to pieces“, this is it. Very apt cover there.
First, a fair warning. The MCs were tortured on and off-page, there is implied sexual abuse, transphobia, consensual knife-play, among others.
Also, very, very angsty and emotionally wrenching because circumstances were harsh and brutal but the person who was harshest to Mason was Mason himself.
Bleed picks up on the Ursache pack life 5 years after Exhale. Nicolae and Jack has established their family but Mason still felt like the perpetual outsider. He was constantly out of the loop and has yet to earn his father’s respect despite being his second after so many years. His relationship with his father was strained and antagonistic because Nicolae couldn’t spare him the affection he showed his other children. Here again, the Ursache Alpha made himself unlikable until the last part where they had the talk.
Like most Ursache, Mason is arrogant, authoritative and excelled at many things. And just like his father, at first, second and third glances, he’s a hard to man to like. Witness book one, where even the usually nice Jack called him The Prick (in fairness to Jack that was before he knew his stepson). Though nobody could deny he would do anything for his pack. What nobody knows is that he is secretly in love with his bestfriend Vasil. Secret because mating between two male alphas is frowned upon by the very traditional wolf society. What they also don’t know (and what I sensed from the get go because with a dad like Nicolae) is that Mason needs a hug. Like yesterday.
Vasil is the Ursache pack enforcer waiting for his date with the devil. It was 15 years ago, when he was a young soldier in a pack war and was caught and tortured by a mysterious sadistic psycho named Dominic, who killed his entire family. He was rescued by Nicolae and since then, he’s biding his time when he could finally have his revenge.
Unlike Mason, Vasil is well-liked by all. He is a genial fellow, a very tough soldier, a skilled fighter and trusted bodyguard. He is a loyal friend, confidant, rival and Mason’s second in the pack. The two men have been friends since childhood.
Vasil never entirely got over the nightmare and felt like he would never be whole again. He has his dark secrets which were indeed fucked up given what he had gone through but that’s the way they are, him and Mason.
“Creepy and kind of fucked, but…sweet.”
I grinned. “Is there any other way to describe our relationship?”
Hugging them both. (つˆ⌣ˆ)つ⊂(・﹏ # ⊂) ⊂(・﹏・⊂)
Bleed is almost epic in its scale. It is a story of vengeance, betrayal, family, love, friendship, responsibilities and loyalty. It is a well-conceived, well-executed friends-to-lovers romance told in both Mason and Vasil’s POV where the internal dialogues were raw and pain was a tangible presence permeating everything. And that was before actual pain was inflicted.
Bad enough that their relationship was up in the air. Worse that Mason had to sacrifice his personal happiness to save his stepsister, Ellie, and the pack. The devil came calling for Vasil, who was all ready to kill or be killed because he had nothing to lose. That’s what he thought. He was dead wrong.
The story then proceeded to earn its horror tag. Not just with one but two monsters! And it went on for months! If I thought Jack had the raw end of the deal before, fate was just downright cruel this time.
The story didn’t end with the rescue. There was the aftermath to deal with. Battered bodies to patch up and a lifetime of scars bear.
But speaking of health concerns, how are they having sex in the shower when one is fresh out of surgery and no longer has the wolf healing ability?
That boggled me slightly but who cares. This has one of the hardest earned HEAs I’ve ever read and the boys can take whatever happiness they can get.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
Criminal Delights: Taken: Sweating Lies
“Gladiator or toy?” Kaspar asks, as if it’s the easiest choice in the world.
It might be an easy answer for someone branded, brainwashed, and who remembers no other life. But that’s not me, not yet anyway. I’m a cop—or at least I was until my cover got blown.
Now, I’m one of the trafficked people I vowed to save.
Kaspar’s a toy —a pleasure slave— content to warm our sadistic owner’s bed; he laps up the abuse he’s conditioned to associate with affection.
He’s my only way out. To gain our freedom, I must play the hardest undercover role of my career and be everything his fractured mind needs: a more controlling bastard than the man who turns people into grateful slaves for a living.
Officer Jiao Sweatt thinks I’m a victim.
He has a lot to learn.
And it’ll hurt.
This book is part of CRIMINAL DELIGHTS. Each novel can be read as a standalone and contains a dark M/M romance.
Warning: These books are for adult readers who enjoy stories where lines between right and wrong get blurry. High heat, twisted and tantalizing, these are not for the fainthearted.
Hmm…I don’t know why this has such a high rating because quite frankly, I was bored.
But if dark is what you want, this is as dark as it can get. Human trafficking, brainwashing, slavery, cattle prods up the ass and that damn parrilla made me shudder. It was sickening so if you want your limits pushed, this is it.
However, the book lost me when it dumped a boatload of information on the workings of the orta, a secret criminal organization specializing in bespoke slaves. I needed the backgrounder but it was just too much info for one scene and the way it was delivered by Kaspar, I think it was unnatural that he would suddenly give a lecture on the orta’s business model just because a captive asked him.
I couldn’t care less about Jiao and Kaspar. I didn’t feel the chemistry. I liked the story better when Jiao was still undercover with Maksim’s gang and I was definitely more interested in Maksim and James. But after Jiao was tasered and handed over to the orta, it became boring despite all the disturbing implications. The pace was slow going. It took a while to get to anything interesting and I have no motivation to stick around and wait for things to perk up.
So Sweating Lies wasn’t working out like I wanted it to but definitely YMMV because many people liked it.
review of other Criminal Delights books here
2 Stars – it’s a struggle to finish the damn book