Audiobook Review: Dinner at Fiorello's by Rick R. Reed

Henry Appleby has an appetite for life. As a recent high school graduate and the son of a wealthy family in one of Chicago’s affluent North Shore suburbs, his life is laid out for him. Unfortunately, though, he’s being forced to follow in the footsteps of his successful attorney father instead of living his dream of being a chef. When an opportunity comes his way to work in a real kitchen the summer after graduation, at a little Italian joint called Fiorello’s, Henry jumps at the chance, putting his future in jeopardy.

Years ago, life was a plentiful buffet for Vito Carelli. But a tragic turn of events now keeps the young chef at Fiorello’s quiet and secretive, preferring to let his amazing Italian peasant cuisine do his talking. When the two cooks meet over an open flame, sparks fly. Both need a taste of something more—something real, something true—to separate the good from the bad and find the love—and the hope—that just might be their salvation.

Listening Length: 7 hours and 11 minutes
Narrator: Joel Leslie

I had to cogitate on this one for a couple of days before I wrote my review. I wanted to come at it from the right perspective to make sure I do it justice and still make sense about what did and didn’t work for me. I came to the conclusion that I needed to look at Dinner at Fiorello’s as more of a coming of age book for Henry and a coming to terms book for Vito and not so much a romance between the two of them. And there was romance, definitely, but it wasn’t front and center to the overall story to me. Once I did that I could appreciate the story for how well it was written and narrated.

I really liked Henry from the very beginning. He’s a rich kid with, what seems like, every advantage, but he doesn’t have it easy. His mom is disconnected, his father is a selfish egotist and his best friend turns out to be a total shitheel. His father is grooming him to become a lawyer just like he is while Henry’s passion lies in the kitchen and the food he can create. He so desperately wants to explore this side of himself and he sees the summer after graduating as possibly his only chance. Then you add in the fact he hasn’t come out to his family and the kid is under a lot of pressure. I say ‘kid’ because he’s 18, but he really is a mature 18 with a pretty grounded sense of self. He didn’t read older than that though, the author balanced enough angst in there to keep his age real.

This was the strongest part of the story for me. The whole thing could have just been about Henry and I would have eaten it up. He was written and narrated so well I had the urge to befriend and protect his character from the baddies, former best friend who shall not be named, I’m looking at you here. I also celebrated his victories with him and when he found the inner strength to be true to himself I was all kinds of happy. I have to say though, I was sad for his friend too. The kid was messed up and obviously torn about his feelings, BUT, you don’t do that shit to my Henry, not cool. I also really liked the narrator’s voice for Henry, it fit perfectly and captured all the emotion without being over the top.

I’m not really sure where to go with Vito. His story is frickin’ heartbreaking and listening to it was just plain sad. I get it, his loss was overwhelming and not that far in the past so it all made sense. I could see why he’d be attracted to Henry but as the story moved on and Vito compared Henry to his former husband on more than one occasion it made me feel like Vito was really not ready for this and Vito readily admits that he isn’t. Again, that all made sense, I think I had just gotten so attached to Henry, that I wanted more for him.

The author made the city of Chicago and its surrounding areas, which I have never had the pleasure of visiting, into another character in the book. I really could visualize every setting clearly and that added to the story in a meaningful way. The narrator does a great job with the Italian accents in the story. Accents can really be a make or break for an audiobook and Joel Leslie made it seem effortless, making it easy to listen to. I really enjoyed the narration throughout, if I’m on the fence with an audiobook in the future and see that he’s narrating, I’m adding that one to the cart.

So, while I was a little torn on how I felt at the end, besides kinda sad that is, I’m glad I waited a couple of days to get my perspective straight. I think if I’d have had more time with them together when I knew Vito was all in, then the romance would have worked better for me. But, I enjoyed Henry and his story so much, I was able to let that go a little and just root for Henry and where he was going. I ended with lots of optimism for him personally even if I wasn’t completely feeling it for Henry and Vito together. I give them a cautious HFN with lots of hope because that’s what Henry wants and deserves. Vito just better appreciate what he’s got there, that’s all I have to say.

For more info on Dinner at Fiorello's and where to get your copy head over to Dreamspinner Press.

**a copy of this audiobook was provided for an honest review**

Review: Out of Nowhere (Middle of Somewhere #2) by Roan Parrish

The only thing in Colin Mulligan’s life that makes sense is taking cars apart and putting them back together. In the auto shop where he works with his father and brothers, he tries to get through the day without having a panic attack or flying into a rage. Drinking helps. So do running and lifting weights until he can hardly stand. But none of it can change the fact that he’s gay, a secret he has kept from everyone.

Rafael Guerrera has found ways to live with the past he’s ashamed of. He’s dedicated his life to social justice work and to helping youth who, like him, had very little growing up. He has no time for love. Hell, he barely has time for himself. Somehow, everything about miserable, self-destructive Colin cries out to him. But down that path lie the troubles Rafe has worked so hard to leave behind. And as their relationship intensifies, Rafe and Colin are forced to dredge up secrets that both men would prefer stay buried.

The cover of the first book in this series (In The Middle of Somewhere) drew me in and on reading I found a debut novel that I really enjoyed, so when the opportunity to review the second book came up I jumped at the chance.  I am so, so glad I did. I think I actually enjoyed this book more than the first one. 

Set in a timeline concurrent to the first novel, Out of Nowhere, could be read as a standalone. Colin is the brother of Daniel from the first book and while the two characters appear in each others storyline briefly it is not imperative at all to understanding the story. If you have read the other book however, it gives insight to events from two different perspectives. This I really enjoyed, and it served as a  reminder that how we view things is not necessarily how others view things.

This story is about Colin (a character not to be loved in book 1) and Rafael. Colin, on the surface, is not a  nice bloke - but his own worst enemy is himself. His actions are governed by a fear of who he really is. Does it always justify hos actions? No, not necessarily. He is hot headed, prone to fits of temper and pretty unaccepting. At least on the surface. He doesn't know how to reconcile the "two" parts of him; the tough, no bullshit mechanic and "the gay". 

At times I was so angry with him, I wanted to shout just be you, don't hide. At other times though I felt insanely sad that he was so uncomfortable in his own skin as it is only because of the judgement of others that  he felt he couldn't be true to himself. And frankly, that's bloody sad. Colin didn't change from the person he's always been once others found out he was gay but how others reacted to him did. Which really freaking pissed me off because why does someone's sexuality make an iota of difference to anyone else? It doesn't, Colin is Colin is Colin. And people have to deal with this crap - and so much worse - everyday. Okay, maybe writing a review at 4am after waking from a nightmare isn't the best idea, I get ragey. 

Rafael was, on the surface, the opposite to Colin in many ways. Even tempered, he lives to help queer youths, to have a place where they can learn life skills without any judgment on who they are or who they are attracted to. It is only as the story goes on we see this as his way of redeeming a past he is not proud of. When he engages Colin to come and share his mechanic knowledge with the kids. it really is the start of a journey for them both.

I think the attraction of this story is being able to understand life from different perspectives, to be reminded that life is not black and white, and assumptions can be very harmful. Roan Parrish writes very engagingly, with a storyline and characters what are engaging and page turning. I cannot wait to read more from this author.

A copy of this book was given in exchange for an honest review.

For more information:

Dreamspinner Press



Guest Review: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

At first I was clueless, I had no idea what I should expect of this. Because it's not the usual M/M romance. It's a funny and quirky story of a 17-year-old guy in high school. And let me say this: he was a real teenager. He is cute and clever, with insecurities and strengths and I loved him.

Becky Albertalli doesn't beat around the bush and she directly says what is important to know. And knows what is not. Because there is a mystery here to be solved. I don't usually like mysteries in the detective novel kind of way. But some enigma now and then does no harm, right? Well, I must say that when the "real" Blue appeared for the first time, I had a feeling he was The One. But there were hints that other characters could be him, too. So I decided to be a little wary. I didn't want my hopes crushed under the heel of disappointment.

Thing is, I liked Blue but I also liked Real Blue. Maybe I was seeing what I wanted to see. And that blinds you, so I tried not to let it go further. I'm glad I was right, because Blue is really cute. I mean, Simon and Blue are both cute, and what they have is really cute. Their banter is comfortable and careful at the same time. They want more, but they also have enough. For now. You have to take into consideration that they are not "together" in the real sense until very late in the novel. This can shoo readers away but in truth I didn't care about this. Because what I got to see was enough for me. It's a feel-good kind of novel.

There is an alternation of episodes: one was about Simon's day to day, and the next one was the exchange of mails between himself and someone called Blue. What began with a quote posted in the high school Tumblr develops to friendship and to something deeper. It's a very subtle change, and I could fall a little in love with Blue with each passing message. But who is Blue? And if they meet in person, would everything be different between them? And if so, would it be a good "different" or a bad "different"?

I liked the total honesty of this book. Seriously, the friends, the family, the theatre play, the "blackmailing", the fuckups, the everything was worth it. Nothing was a tragedy but nothing was rainbows, either. I appreciate finding this kind of story now and then. I didn't exactly laughed out loud but I was definitely not bored at all. I was totally hooked and charmed by it all.

But I'm not only talking about the characters' attitude and feelings but about that obsession authors have about avoiding calling a spade a spade. Sometimes they say the character is "dark" and, consequently, I imagine him dark haired and maybe tanned if further information is given. But after several pages, sometimes the whole book, there is a scene where suddenly someone slips and you realize that when the author said "dark", he meant "black".

And I feel cheated. And that upsets me to no end. I mean, why are you so scared to say someone is black? It's very annoying having a picture in your head and suddenly realizing that it was the wrong one because the author "casually" forgot mentioning it before. It only demonstrates the author's self-consciousness instead of being straight and behaving in a natural way. I do not understand the fuss here, to be honest.

Simon has lots of friends and some of them are black. I loved how the author told the exact amount of information about each one of them without making a big issue out of it. I said before Simon acts as a true teenager and I must say that everything surrounding him had that same atmosphere of reality. With the dramas and not-so-dramas, with the successes and the fails, but everything wrapped in a hilarious and nonchalant mood that encouraged me to keep reading. Because one thing is undeniable: you drink these pages like water, you lose track of time and when you stop reading you realize you have almost finished the bottle. The author knows how to grab your attention and make you turn page after page without breathing.

I recommend this book.

PS: The closest style I can find are the ones in After Ben and The Truth About Riley.

Check out on Goodreads!

Guest Review: Waking Jamal by Amberly Smith

Their physical and mental survival depends on them bonding.

Jamal Zumati joins the military, determined to repay the country that fed and housed him. But during his Hamask activation, his senses go offline and he enters a berserker rage. The United States Hamrammr Program, or USHP, has only one option: put him into hibernation.

Despite his extraordinary ability to read and manipulate situations, Vargr Lt. Rum Walker has stepped on one too many brass toes, and the USHP demoted him back to teaching new candidates. Rum is one paranoid thought away from self-destruction when he is recruited for a covert mission: pull Jamal from hibernation.

The problem is, no one has ever survived a berserker fury—at least not officially. If Rum is to challenge the military stereotypes, he’ll not only need to wake Jamal—he’ll need to get him to agree to be bond as a Hamra Pair, the ultimate supersoldier team.

When Jamal and Rum team up with an FBI Hamra Pair to stop the terrorist group Dios Provee, Rum thinks he’ll show Jamal their true potential lies in an equal partnership, but Jamal is convinced Rum should take the lead. Will Rum stop Jamal from going berserk again and destroying both of their futures?

Guess what day it is?!!! It’s my birthday!!! Yes it is. Seriously! Which is awesome because I’m planning my nervous breakdown later today. Come join me for my BIG THIRTY-FIVE…. *sobs* I made it *sobs some more* I hope someone brought me cake… I think I need cake right now.

We unicorns like reasons to celebrate with cake. Happy double b-day FL & Sheziss!

But seriously, Happy Release day for Waking Jamal by Amberly Smith!

Awesome story. I am really pleased that this story is being released on such a special day (my birthday, remember.)

I’ve been really getting into Sci-fi the last six months or so, and so far I’ve only read a few duds. This is definitely not a dud.

This was fantabulous. Jamal is a newly activated Hamask (bear) but something goes wrong and he enters a berserker rage during activation. This is usually a death sentence, especially when the Hamask are put into hibernation to keep them docile. Things are not looking good for Jamal, until four months later, when Vargr (wolf) Lt. Rum Walker is asked to try and wake Jamal up in the hopes that they will become a bonded pair.

Rum has been unbonded for over a decade. He has accepted his fate, and appears to be going slowly insane. That is the documented evidence from the project, for unbonded Vargr. He is not optimistic about his encounter with Jamal, but tries it nonetheless.

This story has a lot of unique concepts. Thankfully you will find the Glossary of Terms for the Valhalla Initiative right there in the front of the book. I suggest you read it thoroughly so you don’t get bogged down during the story on unfamiliar terms, and internal spell check. I still found I tripped over the term Vargr and Hamrammr but the rest was easy enough to remember.

A note before I get into the plot. This is not a shifter story. There is no shifting into an animal. The activation awakens something inside the human that creates similar instincts and physical attributes as bears and wolves (eye-sight, sense of smell, mating instinct, strength), but they don’t actually turn into anything other than growly men and women with super senses.

There was a lot of action in this story. A lot of mission practice to get Jamal and Rum working as a team, and honing their skills for real missions. They worked well together, even though they were not bonded. They were able to keep up the appearance for a time, but after a while, the cracks in their story started to show. This created some tension, and some missed opportunity for open dialogue between them, but the story still flowed well.

The plot was well developed. I didn’t miss a thing. I was completely enraptured by both characters and the overall world building. I am pretty impressed with this story, and I think I want to pressure the author to write more on this world, if that hasn’t already been decided (remember it’s my birthday?! *bats eyelashes* will that work?).

Individually both Jamal and Rum had clearly defined personalities. I enjoyed the way they interacted. I did want a little more from Rum, because I felt his character was held back a little so that Jamal could come through clearly. I don’t think that was necessary, and I would have liked the author to push both characters to the limits of her imagination.

The romance did work. Not because of some fated mate bonding but because bonding is a conscious choice as much as humans have choice over which pheromones they react to (they don’t, but they can sure say, “You smell good, but your personality sucks, we won’t be making the sex”…… ). The misunderstandings were slightly annoying and it is a pet peeve of mine, but I sort of get where Rum was coming from and why he didn’t want to pressure Jamal, thus closing off any dialogue that would have sorted that out much quicker.

The sex was very hot. There’s really not much else I can say on that. The chemistry, tension, and eventual erotic scenes were very well written. The dynamics were believable, and just yum.

A few plot holes that were subtle but will be noticed. Wick…. He is sort of a wildcard on the whole story line. I wasn’t quite sure what that was all about. It sort of made sense, but didn’t. But then I was like who cares, Jamal is sniffing Rum, and it is sexy as hell so forget Wick, he is irrelevant. Someone less interested in the sexy time may have more to complain about so I’ll leave it to them to dissect.

Learning more about the rebel group before that whole scene was executed would have felt more real to me. It felt convenient. The setup wasn’t great but meh… the sniffing and protecting…. Hawt! I’m kidding. I did care about it but it didn’t ruin anything for me.

The journal entries were a great filler and a good way to get to know Dr Brad Bur while still focusing on Jamal and Rum. Be prepared for that point of view. I really enjoyed it. It was casual and witty, great for lightening a generally serious story.

Overall I binge read this from start to finish. I think it is definitely worth reading for those who enjoy this sort of sci-fi/military storyline set on a futuristic earth. I will have my eye on Amberly Smith to see when that second novel comes out, because I want *side eye and grabby hands*.

An ARC was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Find out more on Goodreads or Dreamspinner Press.

Guest Review: Phonebook by Amy Lane

Stuck away from home on business, all Ryan can do is talk with his lover, Scott, on the phone. But the conservative Ryan finds no comfort in phone sex—he's far too embarrassed. Fortunately, his playful lover has not only planned ahead, but he can think on his back as well. It turns out that the heart really is where good sex starts!

1st Edition published by Dreamspinner Press, 2010.

Guest Reviewer: Adam
Short, sweet, and also sexy. Amy Lane’s fluffy reads are the perfect pick-me-ups.


On yet another business trip, Ryan is feeling bored and frustrated. His boyfriend Scott tries to cheer him up, but he can’t help but be a bit bummed over spending his birthday away from home. Fortunately, Scott knows just what to do to distract both of them up. Phone sex.

I was grinning from the first page. This short is meant to make readers smile, and it achieves that. Even the sex is funny, which I wasn’t so sure about at first, but it worked well. That’s not to say that the phone sex isn’t hot, because it is. We’ve got a usual top getting his inner bottom on with a butt plug while his boyfriend talks dirty to him. Of course it’s hot.

Despite being very short and consisting mostly of a telephone sex scene, I wouldn’t categorize ‘Phonebook’ as PWP. The couple in this book are still fairly new, and are working out some issues. Ryan is at a crossroads, having to choose between his career and his relationship. However it’s angst-free, as Ryan and Scott hash out the problem and come to an agreement pretty quickly.

‘Phonebook’ is the follow up to a short story written by Amy Lane in an anthology that is no longer in print. However, this short story works fine as a stand alone. Though if you do want to wait for it, Amy Lane posted on her blog that the first story will be re-released sometime in May.

I do have to note that I read this short story twice, and liked it more so the second time. When I first read this story, I gave it three stars. I liked it well enough, but it was missing something. After reading the sequel, Puppy, Car, and Snow, I decided to re-read ‘Phonebook’ and enjoyed it much more the second time around. The extra context and emotional connection makes ‘Phonebook’ a much better read. So I’d highly recommend reading the sequel before backtracking.

Overall, ‘Phonebook’ is a cute, sexy, and quick read. If you’re looking for a filler read, this freebie is a good bet.

Dreamspinner Press

Review: Finding the Sky by A.M. Burns

Dillon Smith is so ready for the school year to be over, because he’ll get some relief from the gang that’s been pressuring him to join them. Unfortunately, when he stops for a soda, he’s implicated in the gang robbing a convenience store. Given his late father’s association with the gang, even his mother doesn’t believe him when he says he wants no part of it, and she sends him to live with his Uncle Bryan for the summer.

On the way to his uncle’s house in the country, he and Bryan rescue a hawk that was hit by a semitruck. They take it to some wildlife rehabbers living down the street, and they help open Dillon to experiences he never imagined.

When Dillon meets Scott, the son of the rehabbers, he falls in love, but the gang has a rough summer planned for him.

When this book was offered for review, I have to admit to being in two minds about whether to take it or not. If I'm honest it was the cover rather than the blurb that sold me, so can we all pause for a moment and give a little cover love to this book. Aaah. Feels good huh? So many fugly covers, I do appreciate it when I find one I love!

The cover persuaded me to give it  a try, and I'm glad I did. Despite the fact that portions of this story are very sad, it was on the whole quite a sweet love story - which is what I hoped it would be. I have very little patience for over dramatised, overly convenient plot lines and I did worry that this might fall into that category. I was pleased though, that while it did contain drama, it wasn't of the forced nature I worried it might be.

Once Dillon had moved from the city to his uncle's house the clichés that were lurking fell away and the story of his connection to his summer home came to the fore. And it was sweet. I liked the relationships forged and shown between all of the main characters. Although Dillon was a city boy, he seemed a country boy at heart - once he'd let himself appreciate the virtues of the countryside. Whilst his mother tried hard for him (and yes, she was a bit of a cliché downtrodden, pregnant young, poor mother) it was his uncle who really helped Dillon find himself. The relationship between these two was lovely. 

Scott, with his two dads and extensive knowledge of wild birds, was a great second protagonist. The romance between him and Dillon was really very sweet, and this is what I loved about the story. The angst and sadness and gang storyline were (for me) the author's way of getting Dillon and Scott together. They were there but as a carriage for the relationship development; in my opinion, it was the emotional storyline that won this story. It's what kept me reading.

Basically what I'm saying is; I liked this story. I did. While it wasn't a blow-me-away five heart read, it was exactly what I needed to read at the time I read it and it warmed the cockles of my heart despite the angsty edge.

A copy of this book was given in exchange for an honest review.

For more information, see:
Harmony Ink Press


Review: The Law of Attraction by Jay Northcote

   When a professional relationship turns personal, it’s impossible to resist the law of attraction.
   Alec Rowland is a high-flying lawyer in a London firm whose career is his life. He doesn’t have time for relationships and his sexuality is a closely guarded secret. After picking up a cute guy on a Friday night, Alec’s world is rocked to its foundations when his one night stand shows up in the office on Monday morning—as the new temp on his team.
   Ed Piper is desperate to prove himself in his new job. The last thing he needs is to be distracted by a crush on his boss. It’s hard to ignore the attraction he feels, even though Alec’s a difficult bastard to work for.
   Both men strive to maintain a professional relationship, but tempers fray, passions ignite, and soon they’re both falling hard and fast. If they’re ever going to find a way to be together, Alec needs to be honest about who he really is because Ed won’t go back in the closet for anyone.

Jay Northcote is an author whose books I know I'm going to enjoy. She has a very clean writing style that is easy to read and engaging. Nothing is overtly complex, yet the characters are written with depth and understanding. They are likeable and relate-able - and that is what keeps me going back for more. 

I chose different authors for different reading moods, and Jay Northcote as one I choose when I want a light-hearted read with a touch of humour. The Law of Attraction certainly fitted the bill for me. The storyline isn't a new one, discovering your new boss/employee was your mind blowing one night stand has been done before and will be (I don't doubt) done again. It doesn't matter to me though, if the story has been told before, if I believe in the new characters and enjoy the presentation - and here I did.

Ed kinda stole a bit of my heart. He felt very sincere. I appreciated that there was no unnecessary drama from him. No acting out. He wasn't afraid to be himself, but he didn't do it with a whole load of manipulative bullshit. I liked him a lot.

Alec - well truth be told, I did wonder of I was going to like Alec. The closeted gay guy with the best-friend-beard... it could have been just too cliché for my tastes. But actually, it didn't slip down that path, it felt right. I believed Alec and Alec's reasoning/behaviour.

As ever with  Jay Northcote story, there is hot sex a plenty, so if you're looking to steam up your reading glasses this is a good bet. The balance of hot and sweet is pretty spot on for a low angst, enjoyable read.

To find out more see Goodreads.
A copy of this book was given in exchange for an honest review.

Buy Links (Book is exclusively sold on Amazon)



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Guest Review: Shadows and Light by Cari Z.

A fight to the death against his former master turns into a chance for Rafael, an assassin denied the immortality he lived to achieve, to learn the shocking truth about the fate he was spared.

Rafael wanted nothing more than to serve his immortal master, Xian, a High One of Clare, who taught him from an early age how to be an assassin. But after failing the final test, Rafael was turned out into the Lower City, abandoned by the one person he thought he could count on.

Years of hatred and thoughts of revenge have fueled Rafael’s quest for vengeance, but when the time comes to strike at Xian, he hesitates and is taken prisoner. Rafael expects to die, either at Xian’s hand or at the hand of Myrtea, his sadistic mistress.

Instead Xian heals him, spares him a brutal interrogation and tells him the dark truth driving the ruthlessness of the High Ones—the source of their immortality is spent. Soon the city will devolve into chaos as High Ones battle one another and the rebelling denizens of the Lower City for power and resources. Xian wants to spare Rafael that pain, just as he spared him the pain of becoming a High One a decade earlier.

Their only chance for survival is to escape Clare before civil war breaks out. Even if they make it out of the city, though, there’s no guarantee that Xian will live through the agonizing process of becoming human again. The only ones they can rely on are each other…if Rafael can bring himself to once again trust his former master, the only man he’s ever loved.

Reader Advisory: This book contains mentions of blood-drinking, blood magic, blood-play, knife-play, addiction and withdrawal, as well as flogging and whipping. This book also refers to pain and blood-play as coping mechanisms.

Publisher's Note: This book has been released elsewhere. It has been revised and re-edited for re-release with Pride Publishing.

Cari Z is a new to me author……and I can’t explain why. How have I missed this?! I feel like I live under a rock right now. I feel betrayed by my reader friends. Why has no one recommended Cari Z to me before?! I’m wounded. Deeply.

But now that I have discovered the wonder of Cari’s writing, I can see myself working my way through the back list. So at least there is that. I’m now somewhat pacified.

Now that I got the pouting out of the way, let’s talk about this book.

Raphael lives in the slums, and dreams about taking revenge on his former Master, for casting him out and abandoning him to wallow in self-pity and deep depression. He stalks the High One’s and takes them out to get his message to Xian in the hopes that it will draw the former Master to him so he can kill him.

As a former apprentice to be ascended to a High One, and trained ruthlessly by Xian, Raphael has the assassin skills required to catch each arrogant High One by surprise, and take their life. This is facilitated by their inability to tolerate the sun, and movement is always done at night, in the Shadows.

This world was rich with descriptive, showing text. It was not difficult to imagine any of the world the author shared. It was quick to be explained, but not rushed. Through Raphael’s introspection, and present visuals I easily grasped what was going on, who Raphael was, and what his plans were. I also felt his emotions completely, and was sucked into his campaign of killing.

We don’t meet Xian for quite a while, but when we do, it is a very curious exchange. His motives are not clear, and he keeps things secret for quite some time. It is easy to see how devoted Raphael was to Xian as an apprentice, and how those feelings are just below the surface when they come face to face again.

The story unfolds slowly, and we only learn things in due time. Nothing is given away too early, and there is no wondering where a scene came from. This story flowed seamlessly, and skillfully.

Raphael is a masochist… possibly borne, not trained. It’s hard to tell from the flashbacks but he was definitely always submissive. His absolute devotion to Xian and unconditional love is apparent in every move he makes. Whether he likes it or not, he could never harm his Master.

It was difficult to understand Xian’s perspective. We did not jump into his point of view, so we learned about him only from Raphael’s perspective and the dialogue they shared. This made it difficult to connect with him on an emotional level, which I believe was the point. He is thousands of years old, and has been in this state of being for so long that emotion isn’t something he can relate to. He feels affection, but anything beyond that, he no longer understands.

The mythology behind the High One’s, and how they came to be, was interesting and creative. Immortality has a price, and that price can become very high. Resources are always finite. There will always be an end somewhere.

The sex was intense. Complete D/s relationship with bondage and SM. Some of it extreme. The knife play was hot. It’s one of my favourite scenes to read. While the sex was great, it was understated to the rest of the story. It added, not distracted from the actual plot. And this was a complex plot, with lots of twists and turns. I really enjoyed my time in this world, and hope there will be more.

The story ends with a few threads loose, and I hope that means that we might be able to explore this couple some more at a later date. It was definitely worth my time, and attention, and I would jump all over a sequel.

Recommended for those who enjoy fantasy, action adventure with heavy kink, excellent world building, and an almost HFN. This does not end on a cliffhanger, it is a complete novel.

Check out on Goodreads or Booklikes!

Guest Review: Mayon by Mickie B. Ashling

2nd Edition

The Philippines, 1946

After being discharged from the Marines, John Buchanan is offered a position as overseer for plantation owner Ignacio Saenz. The offer is unexpected, considering he knows nothing about coconut farming, but the presence of Mount Mayon, an active volcano within sight of the property, tips the scales in Ignacio’s favor. Finally John has a chance to put his lifelong passion for vulcanology into practice.

Gregorio Delgado, the current overseer, takes exception to this turn of events. He views John as an interloper and Ignacio’s offer as a thinly disguised excuse to marry off one of his six daughters. What neither of them expects is the powerful physical attraction that simmers between them. Could John be a kindred spirit, or is he just using Gregorio for his knowledge of farming to ingratiate himself with his potential father-in-law? 

As John and Gregorio begin a tour of the haciendas, John discovers he has far more in common with his new acquaintance than he thought possible. Torn between honor and desire, John struggles to define who he is and what Gregorio could mean to him. Like the unpredictable volcano, equal parts beauty and danger, Gregorio becomes an obsession that could erupt at any minute and destroy them both. 

1st Edition published by Dreamspinner Press, 2012.

The love story is sweet. And the setting is interesting and different from everything else I’ve read. But there were several things that didn’t allow me to enjoy this fully.

Let’s begin with the obvious: how many books have I read that are set in Philippines? Zero. So, yes, this is the first one. No, I'm not an expert in this area, but I know a thing or two.

Philippines has always bedazzled me. It’s the only hispanic country in Asia, which by itself is a rarity. When you look at the old photos you see hospitals, universities, churches, cathedrals, markets, streets and the like that are clearly not Chinese or Japanese or like any other country in the area. They have their own culture, their own fashion, their own cuisine. I had a Filipino English teacher and she said the lechón was a typical dish. Imagine my face when I knew they eat the food of Segovia.

(Metro station in Madrid)
The majority of the population are Catholic which by itself is shocking when we are speaking about Asia. My Filipino teacher herself was educated by nuns. She doesn’t speak Spanish but her grandpa was a Spaniard who married a Filipina. So I can kind of imagine that love story here.

I only know her but amongst my English-speaking teachers, she had the best accent, maybe only beaten by the Canadian one. Yes, I know I should not overgeneralize because I have only properly met one Filipina in my life but so far I can tell her accent is the easiest to understand in comparison to the Australian, American and English ones. By a long shot.

Here is what Spanish people know about Philippines, and that’s being generous. A while ago, an expedition paid by the Kingdom of Castile pushed Magallanes to achieve the first circumnavitagion of the Earth. He died in the Philippines, so Elcano finished the task and reached the Iberian Peninsula (1522). Some decades later Legazpi came and founded Manila and Cebu. Then some centuries until the Spanish-American War and the Crisis of 1898.

That’s all.

Nothing about the Manila Galleon or the battles against the Japanese or the Dutch or the like.

So I try to know more and read everything I can find out there. Considering I read almost exclusively M/M, it wasn’t easy. But not impossible.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t wholly satisfied with the Spanish impression here. The problem I have with this book is not that there are inconsistent historical facts. I think the author did a hell of a job here. But I believe she’s “ignoring” the American presence in Philippines and outlining the Spanish details in a way I can’t consider entirely true and it's more negative than not. I don’t want to be skeptical, but when the Americans’ actions are so cool and the Spanish ones are so bad, it does not inspire trust. It’s like a bad guy versus a good guy and this dichotomy is not subtle.

I don’t want to give you a lecture but I don’t feel comfortable overlooking everything that rubbed me the wrong way. I’m giving you an out here.

Here there are some examples.
“He’d studied all the countries Spain had colonized for centuries, and the Phillippines had invariably come up in their discussion.”
When Rome conquered Spain, Spain didn’t exist yet. It was a land full of Iberos and other tribes when the Celts invaded it. Then the Greek, Phoenician and Carthaginian came and established colonies in the coast. Then the Roman became powerful and coveted the land for her metals and people. The conquest lasted 2 centuries (219BD-19AD, take that, Asterix and Obelix!) and they called that land “Hispania” (Spain+Portugal), and she became a province in the Roman Empire. This is what formed the “idea” of a nation when Hispania stopped being part of the Empire. Hispania stopped being part of Rome because in order to defend the Empire from the barbarians, they had to ask for help and give a part of it to the Centro European people. Meaning: Hispania was sold and invaded by the Sueves, Vandals and Alans. But then the Goths expelled them and ruled over it and it became a nation: Hispania. It didn’t last long as soon the Islam came.

Why is this so important? Philippines was called after King Phillip II. But before that? Using the same argument as with the Roman Empire: Spain ruled over lands that weren’t countries yet. Mexico didn’t exist and Phillippines didn’t exist. The same way USA began its existence after the Independence. The term “colony” is very popular in the English language: “the 13 American Colonies”. Spain never referred to the territories as the “colonies”, she was compounded by “viceroyalties” or “kingdoms”: Viceroyalty of New Spain, of Río de la Plata, of Perú, of New Granada… even Navarre and Naples and Portugal had viceroys. It means they had autonomy. Considering we are speaking about centuries ago. We can’t criticise past actions with the mentality we have nowadays. Civilization progresses at its own speed. Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba were captaincies general included in New Spain.

“The prevalent use of the Castilian language among the guest he’d met so far only confirmed the info he’d received when first landing on Philippine soil. The Spaniards still thought they were in charge. John figured that fantasy would have been obliterated by then, since they’d had given up the Philippines in 1898, but it seemed to be deeply rooted in Philippine culture.”

I’m going to avoid reading between lines: Spaniards are assholes.

Spain didn’t “give up” just like that. There was a war. The Spanish-American War. The old tired lion was no menace for a young eagle who would eventually become the first world power. The Conquest of the Wild West was done and the horizon was not finite yet. I won’t tell it here because this is not the place nor the time. I just want to say 1898 is a year most consider insignificant, but for Spain it was the “Disaster of ‘98” and it’s no coincidence we still use the popular saying “More was lost in Cuba”. It was indeed a turning point in Spain. There was an economic and social crisis and a literary movement called the “Generation of 98”. It was the year Spain become a third class power for good, the official year the Spanish Empire ended.

I wish Isaac Peral had been paid attention. A submarine or two would have come in handy then.

But what happened, happened.

Anyway, History is written by the victors and the Spanish Black Legend is still very alive.
“The Spaniards don’t consider me a part of their world, even though my father was pure Castilian”.
False, he was Basque, not Castilian. I honestly don’t understand this statement, it would be more logical to say he was Spanish, because Greg truly doesn’t know who his father was.

“And furthermore,” Greg blustered, “there are universities in Manila older than your famous Harvard. Did you know that?”


“The University of Santo Tomás was founded in 1611. I believe Harvard wasn’t a thought until 1636.”
Why, universities? By the Spaniards? How do you dare! Spaniards were fanatical people who were obsessed about enslaving and killing and getting all the gold they could! How can you say they had universities when Science and Arts were crushed under the Inquisition’s heel? And in Philippines, no less. Universities! You offend me! *snorts*

*ironic mode off*

There are lots of Spanish words included in the book. My Filipina teacher said they had lots of Spanish words in the Tagalog. Then we have the chavacano, which sounds like a very sweet Spanish and the written version is strange and familiar at the same time. But nowadays less than 3% of the population speaks chavacano (which is not small considering there are more than 100 million people in Philippines). Why is that?

Well, for starters, although the Spanish was the official language, it was never widespread throughtout the Filipino population. It was of course spoken by the upper classes, mostly those who lived in the big cities, but also by the intellectuals and cultured people, those who had the means to pay for an education (this group didn’t necessarily include only those of European ancestry). It was by far less common in other classes and areas, which shouldn’t come as a surprise because there are more than 150 languages in the archipelago.

It’s also interesting to point out that many writers in Philippines wrote their works in Spanish, based on my research. The funny fact is that this “Golden Age” of Filipine literature was written in Spanish while and after she drifted apart from Spain, and even to talk about the independence and the nationalism. The first Philippino anthem was written in Spanish. Ironic, isn’t it?

Still, after the Philippine-American War, the Spanish language was forbidden in Philippines. Only English was allowed. The “Kill everyone over the age of ten” claimed many Spanish-speaking victims. Some of the works mentioned before were forbidden in Philippines and had to be published elsewhere. Lots of them were not even published but have been rotting in the oblivion ever since. Literally speaking, because in a country on which Mother Nature loves to download all her force, you can’t make light of it. Luckily, last time I checked, the Instituto Cervantes in Manila was beginning an operation to bring these works to the light.

But if language is not enough, we also have to take into consideration WWII and the destruction of the cultural heritage and historical monuments of Manila, the place were the Spanish influence was stronger. Intramuros was demolished as a whole after the pattern bombing to kick the Japanese out, corpses included. Unfortunately, this masacre is even more unknown than that one in Leningard/Saint Petersburg or Warsaw, but no less bloody and sad.

“Hordes of mosquitoes had also feasted on his tender flesh like cannibals. It was no wonder the Marines drummed in the importance of taking the tiny yellow pills to ward off malaria. The Atabrine tasted vile, but it actually kept the disease away, as did the mosquito nets when they ha a chance to use them.”
This is a pity. This was a time when anti-malarial drugs were truly effective. In the 50s-60s there was an aggressive campaign run by the WHO whose objetive was to erase the disease once and for all, the same way it was done with the smallpox and the same way it’s being done with the polio. They were close to achieving it. But there were resistant strains who survived and the disease went out of hand again. The same with tuberculosis, one of the most widespread infectious diseases; it’s a real challenge figuring out how to control them.

References to nativity scenes, San Miguel beer, merienda, siesta… It could perfectly be Spain. Which makes me happy and nostalgic at the same time, with all those similarities.

“Greg was lucky his family had close ties to the Saenzes, and as such, he reaped some of the rewards of their wealth.”
That “the Saenzes” sounds super weird. I know that in English it’s normal to use the plural that way, but in Spanish we would say “los Sáenz”, the article determining the plurality of the noun. I don’t know if in the Philippines it’s said like the Spanish version or the American one, though.

Sometimes it felt encyclopedic rather than a novel, with so many foods and customs and discussions now and then. I was interested in these details because it’s what makes this book different from the rest. But sometimes it dragged on.

Despite all of this, it was more or less bearable, because the love story is beautiful and lovely. With the added charm of it being forbidden in an exotic environment. So, as a whole, it was pleasant, if not truly poignant and captivating. I never had a rush to read the book but wasn’t repelled by it, either.

But then the shit hit the fan. And I was utterly upset.

There is a scene close to the end that seems taken from a soap opera. It’s like the Crowded Cabin scene from the Marx’ Brothers movie but with a drama queen-ish hint. Seriously. SPOILER:  Victoria is at home. Greg comes very distressed. Then Don Ignacio comes, tries to hit Greg. Then John appears and avoids it. Then Don Luis comes and OMG, what’s going on here? It was a bit too much for my taste.

Then I put two and two together and realised something: the Spaniards were the bad guys. When you want to portray someone as nasty and despicable, you draw them as complete idiots or as ugly jerks.

So I made my calculations:

Don Ignacio: an asshole.
Don Luis: an asshole.
Doña Carmen: a fat bitch.
Petunia: a fat bitch.

The only Spaniard who deserved to be saved from being burnt alive was Daisy, who, by the way, was an airhead. And Lily, who was rather simple.

But the American? He’s perfect.

Americans win, Spaniards suck. Please, repeat. Americans win, Spaniards suck. Did you learn it yet or should I repeat it again?

Then the definite ending. SPOILER:  Victoria is pregnant. It’s like... are you for real? Are you fooling me with this forced resolution of things? This too much, I can’t digest all this surreality. Perfect ending for John and Greg, it solves everything… Right?

I’m out.

So yes, I was a little annoyed by this and ended the book frustrated and a little ofended, if you may.

It could have been marvelous, but it wasn’t. I guess I took it too personally, maybe I made a huge issue out of it. So please, don’t discard this book completely yet. But I can’t help my feelings on this.

An ARC was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Find out more on Goodreads & Dreamspinner Press.