Tag Team Review: Strays (Urban Soul #2) by Garrett Leigh

Work, sleep, work, repeat. Nero’s lonely life suits him just fine until his best friend, Cass, asks him to take on a new apprentice—a beautiful young man who’s never set foot in a professional kitchen. Despite his irritation and his lifelong ability to shut the world out, Nero is mesmerised by the vibrant stray, especially when he learns what drove him to seek sanctuary on Nero’s battered old couch.

Lenny Mitchell is living under a cloud of fear. Pursued by a stalker, he has nowhere left to run until Nero offers him a port in a storm—a job at the hottest restaurant in Shepherd's Bush. Kitchen life proves heady and addictive, and it’s not long before he finds himself falling hard and fast for the man who has taken him in.

Fast-forward a month and a neither man can imagine life without the other, but one thing stands in their way: a lifetime of horrors Nero can’t bring himself to share with Lenny. Or can he? For the first time ever, happiness is there for the taking, and Nero must learn to embrace it before fate steps in and rips it away.

Average 4.625

Adam - 4.5 Hearts

Misfits was one my favourite reads in 2015. It was a the perfect blend of angsty and romantic. So I was stoked when I learned that we’d be getting a sequel about Nero, Cass’ grumpy best friend.

At the beginning of the book, we’re introduced to Lenny, a server at Misfits. Lenny is sunshine and colours. He likes flashy clothing, nail polish, and changing his hair dye every few weeks. He lives life in the moment.

But an increasingly dangerous stalker has pulled the light out of Lenny’s life. Nero agrees to take Lenny in as a favour to Cass.

Nero was exactly as I remembered him from book 1. He’s constantly grouchy and not really someone you’d want to be around. But by getting his POV, it becomes clear that his standoffish-ness is the result of the emotional walls he built over the years.

Lenny slowly works his way under Nero’s walls. Nero begins taking care of Lenny without even realizing it. He makes sure that Lenny eats more than just sugar, and does what he can so that Lenny feels safe.

For his part, Lenny’s experiences with a stalker have a big psychological impact on him. Anything outside of the restaurant's walls become dangerous. The only person Lenny trusts, the only one he knows is really on his side, is Nero.

As the weeks pass, the two slowly fall for each other. They ignore what’s growing between them at first, but eventually something has to give.

Garrett Leigh doesn’t do particularly steamy scenes, but the few sex scenes between Lenny and Nero were definitely hot. And there was an underlying sweetness to them.

The big stumbling block in their relationship is that Nero finds it hard to open up. He won’t tell Lenny what his childhood was like, or where the scars on his body came from. Lenny gives everything to Nero, but Nero finds it difficult to reciprocate.

Readers find out what Nero’s story is the same time Lenny does in the last quarter of the book. I thought that was a good move, because it left me in as much suspense as Lenny was.

When the truth finally came out, I felt Nero’s pain. But what’s also obvious is his hope and how much he heals because of the love that Lenny gives him.

The happy ever after takes a lot of work, but Lenny and Nero get a brilliant ending.

This book has a good amount of angst, but it’s also incredibly sweet. If you’re looking for a contemporary MM romance with strong themes of comfort/healing, I’d recommend ‘Strays’!

Cupcake - 4.75 Hearts

This series is a keeper!

I thoroughly enjoyed Strays in a completely different way than Misfits. The characterizations of both Nero and Lenny are just as three-dimensional as those of its predecessor, but these two vibrant characters are bolder than Jake or Tom. Strays can be read as a standalone, but you don't want to miss Misfits if for no other reason than to experience Leigh's range for yourself.

“Nero’s a grumpy sod, but he’s salt of the earth, really. I’d trust ‘im with my life.”

I was heart eyeing Nero in Misfits and Leigh did not disappoint in delivering the grump in Strays. He is a Grumpy McGrumperton of the highest order. He’s intimidating, growly, caustic even! Man, I heart him. He’s pricklier than a porcupine on the outside but with a marshmallow center. I really loved that Leigh didn’t ungrumpify him at the first sweet aroma of TruuuueeeWuuubbbbb. Wait. Sorry, this is MM romancelandia so change that sweet to musky with a hint of something woodsy.

Nero's backstory which he is tightlipped about is doled out like breadcrumbs, and fleshes him out. Honestly, it was pretty tough for me to read. Not because of the abuse he suffered but because the system failed him. I got so worked up that I had to take a break, if that tells you anything.

Cass, Tom and Jake make appearances which I loved! Crunchy twats FTW! It’s Cass that puts Lenny in Nero’s life. Cass and Nero's relationship is more complex than I envisioned and if you've read my review of Misfits you'll know Cass was my favorite. I think, though it's never explicitly said, that Cass put these two together for a reason. Cass asks Nero to not let him be scared and he does, but I think Lenny saves Nero as much as Nero saves Lenny.

Lenny’s got a psycho-stalker that’s got him so rightly freaked out that he’s afraid to even step foot outside when he lands on Nero’s couch. In many ways they are opposites but what they share is an intestinal fortitude that keeps them from giving up. Both are fiercely independent and unapologetic about it, so I think they have more commonalities than differences which gives them balance. Lenny is a bit femme with his guyliner and glitter. He used to be a dancer, creative, artistic and outgoing before everything went to hell in a handbasket.

What I loved most about their relationship is: (1) their interplay. Lenny’s never afraid of Nero’s bluster. He laughs and jokes around with him; he engages in the verbal swordplay whereas most back down; (2) Lenny’s the smaller guy, but surprisingly, it’s the rough and tumble, tattooed, imposing Nero who harbors fantasies of bottoming, when he's thought about having sex with a bloke, that is.


Their romance is a slow burn that builds tension to explosive proportions. The UST backbuilds so that every time they're together it’s fierce, feral and combustive, but don’t expect an excessive amount of sex. There is some and it is pretty amazing but Strays focuses on the development of their relationship as they painstakingly build trust between them. At one point I actually found myself coaching Lenny. Now, that's either hella invested in this narrative or I'm a crazy train. Maybe both. Probably.

“I’m different because you saw me, Lenny.”

The only thing I couldn’t reconcile was the submissive/bottoming thing which I do not think of as one and the same. It was a strange leap for Lenny to make in the first place, struck me as tacked on and weird and what’s more, nothing is done with it. It just sort of sits there like your weird uncle at holiday gatherings that no one knows what to do with.

Aside from that one hiccup, it’s a touching story with two complex characters that are great individually and the love they have for one another makes them greater which is what makes reading this genre worthwhile for me.

Obviously, I adored all the cookery and that Nero never babied Lenny in the kitchen. The Urban Soul organization... *sigh* I wish with all my heart it wasn't fictional, because I would so quit my job and work for them. How the restaurant story arch played out was just as satisfying as the first.

The formatting with sections being from one perspective then switching to the other for a time I really like. It helps me get to know each character in meaningful ways. I’m hopeful this series continues and perhaps the next book will feature Jolen or more of Nero and Lenny and their food truck adventures.


Review copies were provided by NetGalley.

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