• Dirty Games (Dirty, #2) by HelenKay Dimon

    Dirty Games (Dirty, #2)Dirty Games by HelenKay Dimon

    Dirty Games is the second book in the Dirty series, which follows the Drummond brothers. While I have not read the first book, Dirty Deeds, there was enough background in Dirty Games that I did not feel like I was missing anything.

    This book features MCs Finn (the Drummond brother) and Justin, an employee of Drummond Charities, and is set mainly in Morocco. Justin runs the the charity at a camp site in Morocco that provides needed food, medicine, and other services and supplies to refugees. Justin is prickly and runs the camp with an iron fist. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t caring. He uses his own money to obtain supplies and services for the people who may not qualify through the charity but are in immediate need. When he notices some discrepancies in shipments, he sends for help from Alec, the eldest Drummond brother and Justin’s boss. Alec sends Finn, “the wrong brother”, to assist Justin in investigating the matter. Justin is immediately displeased, to put it lightly, and the two clash from the moment Finn sets foot on the camp site. Finn resents Justin’s hostility and lack of confidence in his ability to handle the matter.

    Underneath all that tension is reciprocated attraction. The passion both feel for each other manifests in scorching sex. While they continue to bicker at each other, they also develop real feelings beyond just physical attraction. It doesn’t help that they have a history of sorts from six or so years ago that neither will admit to the other. When Finn finds himself in danger over and over again, those feelings can’t be denied.

    Set in the backdrop of a country under political strife, these two men learn to navigate the tricky bureaucracy of being gay (Finn & Justin) in an unwelcoming climate and being tantalizing bait for kidnapping (Finn) while fostering a romance that, even in a perfect world, is hampered by their own personal baggage.

    What worked for me was the setting of the book. I enjoy reading stories that take place in foreign countries, mostly because I get to learn something new about a place that I mostly likely will never visit. I also enjoyed the suspense. Just when I thought things were going smoothly, the author threw in a curve ball.

    What didn’t work for me was Justin. He’s way too angry and down right mean to Finn, even when they seem to call a truce. I get that he has some major chips on his shoulder that make him extremely wary and his first instinct is to push people away, but I felt like he was way overdone. Finn, however, was very much likable, and I feel like he deserves someone better than Justin.

    Overall, despite some flaws I had with one of the main characters, I did enjoy the suspense and the setting.

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  • No Rulebook for Flirting by Laura Bailo

    No Rulebook for FlirtingNo Rulebook for Flirting by Laura Bailo
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    4.5 out of 5 stars

    Super adorable and sweet and funny, this novella hit the spot! Aitor and Gabriel have a less than pleasant initial run-in in the parking lot of a board gaming convention. They end up at the same table, and Gabriel works his magical charm to smooth Aitor’s frazzled nerves. They end up connecting over a shared love of board games, and their quirky senses of humor find them going toe to toe in one-upmanship. Nothing like some good old competition to get the all the gooey feels going.

    I love that the MCs don’t fit the norm of traditional romance characters. Gabriel isn’t perfect in the sense that he doesn’t have the fit, hard body and spectacular fashion sense. And while Aitor internally voices his concern about Gabriel’s potential response to his own body, he is confident enough to know what he wants and likes, and can give voice to that during an intimate moment with Gabriel. The characters are wholly accepting of the other’s quirks that aren’t necessarily found in this genre.

    While I am not trans, I feel the author did an excellent job of addressing the unique circumstances that go along with being trans and hooking up with a potential partner. Gabriel handles his growing connection with and desire for Aitor with respect and sensitivity, checking in the Aitor along the way to ensure no boundaries are crossed. And Aitor takes it all in stride. The sex isn’t awkward and comes across as real and natural.

    My only “complaint” (and I use that word hesitantly) is that this story wasn’t longer. I want to know more about Aitor and Gabriel individually, and Judith has her own story worth telling.

    Overall, this was a great story for my introduction to this new-to-me author, and I am looking forward to reading more of her work.

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  • Trick Roller (Seven of Spades, #2) by Cordelia Kingsbridge

    Trick Roller (Seven of Spades, #2)

    Trick Roller by Cordelia Kingsbridge

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    If I thought Kill Game, the first in the Seven of Spades series, was extraordinary, Trick Roller is phenomenal. Installment two continues to follow Levi and Dominic’s developing relationship. Their chemistry is off the charts and the sex is scorching. Levi’s obsession with the Seven of Spades reaches a critical point, and puts his job and relationship with Dominic in jeopardy.

    The reader gets a further peak into Dominic’s neighbors and their family, which adds a wonderful dimension to the story without taking away from the thrilling suspense. Everyone thinks the Seven of Spades case was resolved with the death of the main suspect in the first installment. However, Levi knows in his gut the killer is still out there. Dominic also has his hands full as he starts a journey to his new career as a PI.

    As the two grow closer, more of their personalities come out. Their feelings for each other are written so well that they come across as genuine. They are fiercely loyal to each other and perfectly compliment the other. As Levi and Dominic continue to deal with their own personal demons, they begin to lean on each other for support. Their vulnerabilities invoke empathy and there’s no way not to root for these two. The building romance hooked me and the suspense kept me on my toes.

    The cliffhanger at the end of Trick Roller is even more awesome than the one at the end of Kill Game. I haven’t been this stoked about a series in a while, and now I have to wait patiently for April 30th when book 3, Cash Plays, is released.

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  • Kill Game (Seven of Spades, #1) by Cordelia Kingsbridge

    Kill Game (Seven of Spades, #1)Kill Game by Cordelia Kingsbridge
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    This is book is exactly what I was hoping for and missing when I picked up Cut & Run by Abi Roux. It has edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting suspense, a lovable angsty main character, a BOUNTY HUNTER ffs, and twists and turns that left me reeling.

    Before I began reading almost exclusively MM romance, suspense/thriller novels were my go-to. I find this genre can be written really well or not so good. It’s disappointing when the suspense is lackluster and the twists are easily anticipated. I had no issues with either when reading Kill Game.

    Levi is a detective with the Las Vegas PD assigned with his partner, Martine, to a rash of murders across Vegas that have been linked to an individual dubbed the “Seven of Spades.” Dominic is a bounty hunter and part time bartender who ends up entangled in Levi’s investigation. The chemistry between Levi and Dominic slowly builds as the story progresses. Chemistry was the one thing I didn’t get from Cut & Run, and I was super pleased that the MCs in Kill Game worked for me. I was rooting for they from their first interaction.

    They are each dealing with their own demons which adds to the depth of the characters. One of Levi’s complications is his long-term boyfriend, with whom he lives. Levi’s relationship with Stanton feels wrong from the beginning, and even though Dominic is the complete opposite of Levi, not only in personality but also in physical size, Dominic is a better fit. I, however, feel sympathy for Stanton and hope he gets his HEA.

    Kill Game ends perfectly on a cliffhanger and I can’t wait to read the next in the series. I am confident the author will continue with the momentum and keep readers on their toes.

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  • Conjoined at the Soul (Book Two of Chadham High series) by Huston Piner

    Conjoined at the SoulConjoined at the Soul by Huston Piner
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    CW/TW: bullying, racism, antisemitism, homophobia, hate crime, use of racial and ethnic epithets

    Conjoined at the Soul is Book Two of the Chadham High series. I haven’t read Book One (My Life as a Myth) in the series, but I don’t think that’s required. I did not feel lost or that I was missing anything while reading Conjoined at the Soul.

    Randy Clark is a sixteen-year-old high school sophomore in late 1979, and is coming to terms with his sexuality. The book opens with Randy admitting to himself that he is gay. As he navigates his new identity during a time when being gay was not accepted, he discovers things and people he once thought he has figured out are not what they seem.

    I love books set in the 80’s and this is close enough that I squealed every time a favorite band or fashion from that time was mentioned. Randy comes across as endearingly naïve and clueless. His instincts about others’ motivations are way off the mark and he finds himself in less than favorable positions. He’s so insecure that he wobbles back on forth on his resolve about certain situations and people. He has a lot of growing up to do, especially when it comes to how to be in a relationship and how he should be treated.

    The author does a fantastic job of fleshing out characters typical for the late 70’s. Although this is before the AIDS epidemic, the consensus of same sex relationships is that they are distasteful. Not only does the author address homophobia, he also addresses racism and antisemitism. Randy’s father is a racist through and through. He endlessly spouts off demeaning names for non-white and non-Christian people. Randy recognizes his dad’s awful behavior and, in a way, accepts that this is just the way it is.

    If it were not for the seriousness of the hate that takes place in this book, Randy’s naivety would be sort of amusing. He can’t seem to understand why certain waitresses will not serve his table of friends that includes an interracial couple. And when they get kicked out of the restaurant by the owner, he is doubly shocked at the owner’s attitude. He is also not aware of how subtle he needs to be when showing affection to another boy at times.

    A few things that surprised me about this book were the number of characters that are revealed to be gay and the lackadaisical way Randy shares intimacy with others, whether due to peer pressure or his own misguidance. However, I did appreciate the frank way the author dealt with them. The characters and their conflicts felt real.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go add Book One. And Book Three (Breaths We Take) is eminent, so I’ll have to add that one too. 😊

    **Copy provided by publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.**

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