Jeff & Will open the show celebrating two birthdays: Will’s advanced age and the podcast’s sprightly fourth year.

Jeff reviews Blood & Bitcoin by L.A. Witt. Will reviews Safe Harbor by H J Welch and The Secret of the Carrot Medallions, a graphic novel featuring Catherine Dair’s Skip and Pip characters.

Max Walker talks to Jeff about his latest book, Loosen Up and how he got involved in the Ace’s Wild series. They also discuss Max’s Stonewall Investigations and Stonewall Miami series, how he balances suspense and romance, as well as his journey from nearly being a doctor to becoming a full time author.

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Show Notes

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Interview Transcript – Max Walker

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Jeff: Max, thanks so much for coming to the podcast. I’m so thrilled. You’re finally here to talk to.

Max: Yes. Thank you for having me.

Jeff: So everybody knows that I love your “Stonewall Investigation” books and we’re going to get to talking about those in just a few minutes here, but you’ve got something new out right now called “Loosen Up” which is part of the “Ace’s Wild” series. Tell us all about that.

Max: Yeah, so “Loosen Up.” It follows Jordan and Brody which were two of my characters from last year’s “Heart 2 Heart” anthology. The way they kind of came about was we got reader suggestions for names and traits and all that kind of stuff, and Brody and Jordan came out of that and I loved writing their story a year ago.

They went off on an adventure in the savannah and ended up saving an elephant from being poached. It was like super, super cute and super amazing and I just had such a fun time writing them. So I figured. Now would be a great time to bring them back for “Ace’s Wild.” And so now we’re picking up about two years after they first met. Jordan’s just like super stressed at work. His 9 to 5 is just brutal. He hates it. And so Brody ends up making a surprise vacation to Miami to go, you know, relax, rest, have some pina coladas and then they end up getting on the plane. Jordan accidentally eats an entire edible brownie, which you should not do on a plane, and then they find out that the plane is actually headed towards Vintage Ridge, North Carolina, which is the complete opposite of Miami. So then they kind of have to figure out okay… Do we go on this vacation? Do we kind of like just cancel everything? They end up just going with the flow which is kind of like what I really wanted to get out of the main message. Just kind of like sometimes life, you know, throws random stuff at you and you just kind of have to go with it and it ends up being even better than how it was planned originally.

So that’s what they end up finding out. The vacation ends up being exactly what they needed. They meet Ace and Wilder, which was such a blast to write because they were already kind of like constructed characters. So it was cool kind of jumping into their heads and trying to fit them into this story and it was it was really fun, fun experience.

So they go meet Ace and Wilder. They pick up a few things at their shop. And get into a bunch of hijinks. I really wanted a romantic comedy kind of feel for it. Kind of like Bridesmaids type of thing – like full Bridesmaids Kristen Wiig, like on the back of my shoulder just whispering the entire time and even on the top of my like Google Docs I had in like bold letters think rom-com.

And so that kind of like kept me on track for their story and that’s how ‘Loosen Up’ came to be.

Jeff: What’s it like developing characters the way you did for these two and then not only the reader suggestions for that but then to drop them into another universe as well.

Max: Yeah, it was a little bit more challenging than I thought.

I mean, thankfully the last anthology was kind of a short story. So I did go back and read it and try to get into that space again because it was kind of like a year-ish or so. So if it were a longer story, I think it’d be a little bit harder to fully kind of immerse myself in there.

But since they clicked so well in the first story, like that wasn’t, you know, too much angst or anything and they just kind of flowed really well. It was kind of easy to pull them back in and kind of drop them in that world. And I think that kind of made it funnier because they were kind of these two lost Canadians.

I just had no idea where the hell they were going and then they kind of just had to make it a good time. And so I think that kind of like added to it

Jeff: to.

How did you get involved in “Ace’s Wild?”

Max: I was thankfully invited. I got my little Hogwarts letter in my Outlook email and I was like, yes, of course.

And yeah, I mean it was it was really good that I said yes because it’s been such a good project, like not only have the author’s just been great – like the books. There’s something for everyone. I mean, there’s 13 of us if I’m not mistaken and literally, you know, there’s different kind of palette for every single person.

And on top, we all chose our own charities to donate to, so it’s kind of like spreading out the goodness. ‘Loosen Up’, the first 90 days are going to the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which I’m super excited about because I used to walk by their building all the time, and I’m like, now I can finally give back to you guys. And so it’s been a really good experience.

Jeff: And you’ve been giving back another way too because you just did the AIDS Walk as well.

Max: Yes. Yeah, I did. That was the first time we ever did it. We got like a big group of friends together and walked downtown. Thankfully the weather was perfect. It was really energizing. Like there were so many people on the streets. We raised a good amount of money and it was really, really exciting. So yeah, this is kind of the season for it I guess. I mean, it should always be the season for charity. But yeah.

Jeff: It’s great to see your readers giving back, both through supporting you on the walk and picking up “Loosen Up” as well.

Max: Yeah, absolutely. And even for the walk, like I wasn’t sure what to kind of expect, so I set my fundraising goal at 300 and in like a few hours I had to bump that up because people are being so generous and I was so blown away because you know, it’s for such a really great cause and I’m glad that I was able to be a part of it, for sure.

Jeff: Now Stonewall investigations and it’s spin-off, the Miami series. I mean, what was the origin of these super popular books?

Max: And the origin I um, I wish I had like a cool origin story. I wasn’t dropped in a vat of acid or anything. But let’s see. I was finishing up my “Sierra View” series, which followed a group of doctors in the hospital. And so I kind of knew I wanted to do an office space kind of thing. I knew I wanted them linked through the office, and for I mean eight books, I think before I did “Stonewall” I had eight books out and they all have like a little mystery element to it. And so I thought okay.

Well, I kind of want an office space kind of romance and I also want to incorporate the mystery. A detective agency would be literally perfect. So I came up with that kind of core idea first and then I kind of tried brainstorming names and stuff. And thankfully it didn’t take too, too long to land on Stonewall Investigations, which I mean, once I like thought of it I was like, okay, this is like that’s it. It’s done.

And then from there was Zane and Enzo, who kind of kicked it all off and they started the whole journey with Zane’s hunt for the Unicorn and then Enzo just falling in love with him and it just kind of carried on through that. I don’t have like a crazy origin story, but it I’m very happy about it though.

Jeff: Yeah, and then you decide to spin it off to Miami. How did you decide on the Miami location?

Max: I’m from Miami. I was born and raised in Jersey and then I moved to Miami when I was 14. So I kind of got like half and half, and so every Christmas we fly back to Miami and we always, you know, visit family and stuff.

I wanted to visit that place in my book. I kind of wanted to go to Miami Beach and have that like kind of like, you know, Ocean Avenue kind of feel with the neon lights and the Art Deco and I thought there was going to be a lot to play with too because Miami is such a big city and there’s so much going on.

Like I knew there would be a good place to set it at. I did kind of want to – like how “NCIS” kind of does like “NCIS: LA,” “NCIS: New York.” So I kind of wanted to like follow that avenue and I thought Miami would be it. So I went from New York to Miami and then we’ll see what’s next I guess.

Jeff: You can certainly tell you know the places, like the way you wrote the New York books. I knew exactly where you were in those settings.

Max: Yeah, I tried I definitely. I mean it’s a lot of Google Maps too. But I did visit New York a few times and like while I’m there just trying to absorb everything, like taking pictures of random street signs just to have them on my phone. Like I’m sure some of that kind of seeps in and I try to be very kind of like I’m writing a movie almost. I want to make sure everyone is seeing what I’m seeing, and just had living in that, and that scene. So I’m glad it worked out for New York for sure.

Jeff: How do you come up with the thriller aspects of these, because I mean you created some pretty twisty turns with the Unicorn. That was some pretty hardcore stuff there.

Max: The Unicorn, I knew I wanted a four book arc . I knew who it was going to be, and I knew why they were doing what they were doing, but I didn’t really have like the in-betweens. I didn’t have all the red herrings. I didn’t even have books two, three or four plotted and I just had book one when I thought of the Unicorn. So in that sense, I kind of just I had you know, the big tent poles and I kind of went along with it. So with that, it’s kind of like just sometimes it surprises me too while I’m writing, but with the smaller ones because in each book, I do also have another mystery running underneath it.

Those are a little bit more planned out and I have a beginning middle and end for those, but not all the time. Sometimes I do jump around. I don’t have you know, I’ll be in chapter 20 and I’ll think. Oh, maybe I can drop a clue now back in chapter 4 about this so I can go and do that or sometimes I’ll even like just don’t really get married to like the plot outlines I do.

So, I think that also keeps things fresh. So if I think of a better twist than the one that I had planned out before, I’m not scared to go ahead and change it, like I’ll just go ahead and make it even twistier.

Jeff: I’m fascinated by the idea that you didn’t have more of the Unicorn series, I guess or the plot of that planned out when you did book one, because it all came together so well in book four to bring it down to those final tense things that happen throughout that book.

Max: Yeah. I don’t know. I mean, I like I knew some of the big, big clues that were going to have to flow through all four books. Like I need those specific clues. But yeah, a lot of other things I kind of figured out along the way per book. I mean once I got into book 2, then I figured out a little bit more, and then book 3, so and so.

Jeff: Do you think we’ll go back to New York for more or is that story kind of done?

Max: I don’t know. I haven’t even thought about that until now, so maybe. You just sparked… this is an origin story. This is it. This is a good origin story. I do want to visit other cities. I’m wrapping up Miami now, so it might be New York.

Jeff: Well, if you go to other cities, I mean you think about how “NCIS” and you know “CSI” and all those shows do it, they get two or three or four cities going on and then you get the epic crossover.

Max: Oh, that’s true. So. Okay. Yeah, have like a big superhero crossover. I’m liking how this is going.

Jeff: Okay. Well, there’s the origin story for later.

Max: Right.

Jeff: Right here on the podcast.

Max: At least it’s on camera. We got proof, we’ve got proof of it.

Jeff: How much research goes into your thrillers? Like what do you have to know? We were talking to an author at GRL who said well, he has to learn how to burn bodies for his books. You haven’t a burned a body, at least not that I’ve read so far, but what goes into getting your thrillers to to work well on the page?

Max: I haven’t Googled burning bodies yet, but I have I Googled some weird stuff like medication and like what’ll knock someone out that I remember thinking, like should I type this into my computer right now? But other than that, I don’t. I researched a lot about how private detectives work and what they’re kind of like daily lives are, and what they’re you know what their job responsibilities are kind of.

But for the cases, I don’t get too into the weeds with it. I try to just get you know the essence and try to go from there. And also I don’t try to get too gruesome or anything. So anything that would kind of require me to like stretch and research a little bit more.

I don’t think I do. I watch a lot of “Criminal Minds.” I just finished “Mindhunters,” so that’s probably good. It seeps in that way.

Jeff: We’ve talked about two different genres here between your rom-com side and your thriller side and you’ve got some contemporary romance in your back list too. Do you enjoy any one particular genre more than the other?

Max: I love them all. I really love this rom-com that I wrote. I don’t know if – I probably can pull off a full sized book of it. I don’t know. I love them all. I do love the mystery element because it does add like a little layer. And for me, it’s fun. Like I love puzzles.

I love trying to like figure things out and in a way, it’s kind of like the opposite, like I’m just messing up this puzzle and you know, hoping someone else can figure it out. I find that really fun and even in all those stories like the romance is still the star of the show, like it wouldn’t happen without the the two main guys.

So I think I think romantic mystery right now would be my top.

Jeff: How do you work to balance the romance with the mystery side of it so that it all flows nicely?

Max: It’s a little complicated. I just try to see it as a full picture and if I feel like he’s investigating for too long… where’s the other guy? Like why haven’t we seen them together for a while? I’m very aware of that. So I’ll try to push them together somehow or if maybe they’re on a date and someone spots, you know, someone that they want to investigate and the other one kind of comes and gets like dragged along.

So then you get like both of them in the same scene together and kind of working off each other – start trying to play off of those kind of things and never keep them away for too long. And yeah, I just tried it. Try to make sure that nothing is overwhelming the other because it definitely can happen.

I mean, especially like if the mystery is just like, you know, if he has to interview three different people and you want to get those interviews down on page. Well, then maybe you don’t have to do the two interviews on page. You can kind of like make him talk to the date about two of them and then you can kind of balance it out like that.

So yeah, it’s definitely a juggling act, but it’s fun. I like it.

Jeff: Is there a genre you want to pursue but haven’t taken the plunge on yet?

Max: Fantasy. That’s what I grew up on, like I just devoured Anne McCaffrey “The Dragonriders of Pern.” I would read constantly R.A. Salvatore like all those like big fantasy books, although not so much high fantasy, which I used to read a lot as a kid more. So now I would love to do a gay romantic fantasy. Like I just want that. So I think that’s definitely in the pipeline for sure. I just love dragons and a gay dragon would be like really cool.

Jeff: Does anything hold you back from necessarily starting that, or is it just a matter of where it fits in your overall scheduling?

Max: Maybe I have started it. No, it’s…

Jeff: Breaking news right here perhaps?

Max: It’s very schedule dependent. I want to make sure I get the Stonewall books out and then whatever else I have planned, but I’ve been world building on the side.

So it’s been cool. I have a big resource list thing that I’ve been looking at and say I’ve been working on it side by side, but I haven’t been able to like fully dive in yet.

Jeff: Podcast listeners know that I admire people who take the dive on fantasy because there’s so much world building that you as the author need to know that you don’t necessarily need to tell every bit of to your reader and like where the balancing act.

Max: Yeah, you don’t want to like info dump them in the first paragraph, then people get bored and they don’t want to read that. Yeah, it’s hard but it’s also fun.

And yeah, I love having like those little tidbits in the back of my head like, oh this is gonna pop up later. Oh, you know, maybe like you said like the readers will maybe never know about this, but it’s kind of cool that I do.

Jeff: I look forward to seeing what a Max Walker fantasy looks like.

Max: Me too.

Jeff: So I’m going to make you do origin story again. What got you started writing?

Max: I guess, well like you probably, like I wrote since I was a kid like back when I was…. don’t even remember, like one of the first, I was thinking about this the other day. One of the first books I ever like wrote books. It was just like a black journal with black pages and then the pen, I’ll never forget, like wrote rainbow.

So I don’t know why my parents didn’t realize back then, but I remember being in my grandparents house and I was writing a story about a cow in space and I like drew the cow and I like have this entire story about it. And that was like the first story that I remember writing. But then after that obviously it grew into way more, like when the internet came about, I still wasn’t in high school yet and I had found like role-playing boards, like forum role-playing play post or whatever. There were like fantasy boards.

So one of them, I think it’s still around. It’s called Illyria, you make your character you have like. You like it you’re in charge of the inventory of all that kind of stuff. And then you just kind of jump on people’s stories and you reply, and they reply, and I was like 12 or 13, like I looked back at the post and it was…

There’s no like space after the periods. Like I had no idea what I was doing. I was just still like, oh my God, I’m so happy, and I would like go to school and I’d be so excited to just get home to see what people would write. That kind of like kicked it off and I was just super excited to write all the time.

Another thing that came with the posts was that I would have to like spend so much time on Photoshop because we would make little layouts for our posts, and I wanted them to be cute and bright and poppy and stuff. And so I think that kind of helps now too because I make my own covers.

It all kind of went hand in hand from just that long section of my life where I was just like constantly, constantly in this world. Then once High School came around, and then college, it kind of got a little bit less and less because I was writing for school and reading for school.

I was supposed to be a doctor. I was supposed to go to medical school. I told mom, since I was little, I was gonna move to LA just for like a year. I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna do it. I graduated college, the time came and she obviously didn’t believe me until I graduated. She’s like wait, you’re actually moving? I was like, yes, and so I postponed medical school to move to LA to try to be an actor, because that was always my dream for some reason. Even though I was reading constantly and I was always writing, I never thought like, oh I could write a book, because I never had. I just wrote like little stories, so it never like clicked for me until like three or four years being here in LA. No medical school, thank God. And I was working a day job and the day job was really great.

Like they let me go out on auditions, but it wasn’t that many auditions. I’d have to go, you know, once a week drive, you know, 30-40 minutes into town and drive back to try and make it in my one hour lunch break or whatever. So I was trying to figure out ways of like, you know getting out of this day job and then I found self-publishing and the entire world opened up to me. I would just spend all day at work reading these posts, like trying to like figure out like, you know, people are actually doing this, this is incredible! So then that’s when I started writing and even at my desk job, I would just write between phone calls.

I’d pick up the phone, hang up, write and then back, then it was very short story oriented. I was still writing like the short form. I did notice more and more traction. And then I was able to give my two week’s notice, and then it was weird because the last audition I ever had was on my last week of work.

And then after that I never got sent out, which is totally fine with me because I was way more happier than I ever could be – just doing what I wanted to do. So it really worked out really, really well and I’m yeah, I’m like super lucky.

Jeff: Did the almost medical school lead you to do the medical series of books?

Max: Yeah, it was definitely an influence. A lot of my friends they’re, you know doctors now after eight years, they’re just finishing now and so in college, like I was part of a pre-medical group or whatever. It was very much write what you know. I shadowed a lot of doctors. I kind of like went down that route, but then detectives I mean, I don’t know any detective so I don’t know where that came from.

Jeff: Well some things are allowed to just pop up out of nowhere, right?

Max: Exactly.

Jeff: How do your parents feel about Max the the writer instead of Max the doctor?

Max: It took a little while I think. They love it though, especially just now like this past September we went to go visit and I like I revealed my pen name for the first time because they hadn’t known. I was like you never read anything I’m writing, don’t even like open the book. So I’m like. I don’t want you reading these like four letter words that I’m writing, but I did let them know my pen name and they’re super proud and happy and I think they know that what needed to happen happened for sure.

Jeff: That’s good and that they’ve got a son who’s a best-selling author because you’ve had that orange ribbon on Amazon.

Max: And yeah, thank you. And yeah, they also are very proud of that.

Jeff: You make your own covers. We don’t hear that a lot. How did you take the leap to do what everybody says an author shouldn’t do and make your own covers?

Max: I guess it goes back to me spending so many times like hours in Photoshop. I think a lot of authors are intimidated by Photoshop because it’s scary. There’s a lot of buttons going on. There’s a lot of things that you can like change and stuff.

Even when I first started, my fiance he’s into photography ,and he’s like really great editor, so he helped me kind of like fine-tune the colors and stuff in the very beginning and then I kind of learned the tricks from there.

So even when I first started I still didn’t know everything there was to know about Photoshop, and I still don’t know everything there is now. I did really enjoy it. I like kind of like putting them all together and picking the colors and the font and all that kind of stuff, and it’s just like a different aspect of book writing that I think… it’s really captured my attention.

It’s definitely something that’s come in handy for sure. And like I said, I kind of like control the brand a little bit better. I won’t feel bad about going to designer and be like, oh, can you change this, can you change that like, I’ll just change it myself.

So in that aspect it’s a little easier. But yeah it is. It’s another side to the job. That’s for sure.

Jeff: Have you done your covers since the beginning?

Max: Yeah.

Jeff: That’s incredible. I’m a little jealous.

Max: Thank you. Yeah, it’s fun. I’ll spend days looking through like – I still haven’t gotten specific like photo shoots done for my covers yet.

So I’ll spend you know, a very long time looking through stock photos and there are some very interesting stock photos that I’m like, why is this on here? That’s another aspect. You’re picking a photographer and like all that kind of stuff that I will get into soon. Probably my next series for sure, but I really like making my covers.

Jeff: Is that something your fiance could help with since he is a photographer would he take potentially the photos for you?

Max: I need to start cracking that whip is yeah for sure. I’m missing out on some stuff here. And yeah, he’s such a great photographer, like it’s crazy what he’s doing. So, yeah, hopefully you’ll see in a Armando Morales original on my next cover.

Jeff: How did you decide, as you were getting into the writing ,that gay romance was your space to be in?

Max: I just really connected with it. I don’t know what happened. I think I just stumbled upon it and I was like, wow, I really want to write this and so I like I said, I started off with short stories and then I did the “Guardian” series, which kind of like kicked it all off for me. It was just these two men that were bodyguards and just trying to like, well the first two men were FBI agents, but it just attracted me.

I loved the fact that I could also play with action and adventure, which was something that I was really really into, so if I could throw a car chase in there, if I could throw in a boat chase – that works really well and I am also a huge romantic, like I love romance, and I love like, you know Hallmark movies – rose petals everywhere and stuff like that.

So it was really kind of clicked together really well.

Jeff: Any particular author influences on what you’re writing now?

Max: I read a lot of different authors, a lot of different genres right now.

I’m reading “Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo, which is an adult fantasy book that’s got me like hooked. But like I’ll read like Adam Silvera’s work and Stephen King. I was going through a bunch of his stuff and I’m not like a huge fan of horror, but for some reason Stephen King really snags me, so I read him and a lot of people in our genre like Riley Hart, Devon McCormack, N.R. Walker, Jaclyn Osborn, like there’s so many like crazy good authors that it’s just you can’t even choose like what’s influencing – it’s all like just a full well of goodness, and I think that’s also important, if you’re not reading widely, then I don’t think you can learn as much and I always want to be learning. I always want to try to make my next book better or try to figure out how I can make it better, and I think by reading and especially reading actively, like making sure you’re paying attention to oh, this is an interesting way that the author wrote the sentence or oh, this is a cool paragraph or the flow of this is really cool.

I think picking up on those things really helps.

Jeff: Yeah, I certainly find that to be the case to just sort of break things down as you go. Sometimes I get too caught up in the plot to break them down and I have to go back later.

Max: Yeah, that’s a good sign.

Jeff: So what’s coming up next for you? What do we have to look forward to either as 2019 closes out or as 2020 comes in?

Max: Next up is going to be my third “Stonewall Miami” book. Right now I’m thinking it’s gonna be called “His First Surrender” and it’s wrapped. I wouldn’t say it’s wrapping up, but it’s coming out to be a very interesting story. It’s going to be a little bit edgier I guess than my last ones. There’s a special room that our detective Rocky Hudson has in his house that people are going to be interested in. Also Rocky Hudson the detective, he’s kind of, he’s very closed off and colder than a lot of my other characters because I kind of try to veer more towards the warm side of the spectrum. So it’s very interesting going to Rocky’s headspace and like having that wall even higher than some of the other walls I’ve had in the past.

So yeah, it’s good. It looks like it’s going to be a good book, so stay tuned.

Jeff: Very cool and how could people keep up with you online, so they’ll know when that book is coming out, and everything else on your on your plate?

Max: You can friend me on Facebook, Max Walker. I also have a Facebook group. Then on Instagram MaxWalkerWrites, I’m really active on Instagram. It’s just like a little photo album for me. So you can just check all the stuff out there. And Twitter MaxWalkerWrites.

Jeff: We will link to all those things and the books we talked about in the shownotes so that everybody can find them easily.

It has been so awesome talking to you and getting some of the history on all these books. We look forward to reading what’s next in the “Stonewall” series for sure.

Max: Thank you so much for having me. This is my first podcast interview ever. So I’m so happy was here with you.

Book Reviews

Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:

Blood & Bitcoin by L.A. Witt. Reviewed by Jeff.
With Layla Reyne’s Fog City series, I took a dive into a romantic suspense series where one of the romantic leads was a guy on the wrong side of the law. Here we go again with Blood & Bitcoin by L.A. Witt. This is the fourth book in L.A.’s Criminal Delights series and I’ll say upfront that there was nothing missed by reading this as a standalone.

Chris Emmett is a former SEAL and former FBI. He’s known for being a lone wolf and that gets him in trouble because his superiors don’t appreciate someone going off on their own, even if it ultimately gets the job done. There are those in the bureau who think his talents can be of use though, so he’s released from prison and put into an opp…he doesn’t question it too much because following through means getting his badge and freedom back.

The assignment seems straightforward enough–find out who wants to kill Piker, the leader of the Hive, a crime syndicate that operates on the dark web and deals a lot in cryptocurrency, primary bitcoin. Piker is every bit the modern day crime boss, surrounded by a team to protect him and leading a life where nothing is quite what it seems, especially the split between crime boss and legit business owner. Even the morals and legality of the Hive rapidly becomes unclear to Chris as he locks in a spot on the security team.

Piker’s an intriguing individual. So many, many secrets going on with him. It’s impossible to describe how Piker operates without spoiling something in the book. He definitely treads on the edge of right and wrong, but that line moves around a lot too. The question of who is out to kill him is a baffling one. There are certainly people outside the Hive who would benefit from the instability his demise would bring about. The idea of it being an inside job weighs heavy too since there could be people looking to make a power grab.

L.A. has constructed an amazingly complex and wonderful storyline here. Who wants Piker dead? What will they gain? Is what Piker’s doing wrong…or is it just a necessary evil of our society? And what of the legit side of the business? There are so many incredible layers to the story and poor Chris has a lot thrown at him as he unravels everything to a pretty unimaginable conclusion. You have no idea how much I’m not talking about in this review because I want readers to gasp as much as I did when the revelations roll out. I had no idea how twisted this story could get and I loved every minute of it.

One aspect I very much enjoyed was the dark web and cryptocurrency elements of the story. I’ll take anything that uses technology in its thriller plot and this one did it so well. And, I finally learned some things about bitcoin, which I have to admit has always sort of baffled me as to why anyone would choose to use it. These elements highly entertained me and I don’t think they would get in the way for anyone who didn’t care about the technology. L.A. only gives you what’s needed for the story.

And, wow, what a hot romance simmers through this book. Through most of the book, Piker and Chris don’t trust each other. And, Chris has never even been attracted to men before, but something about Piker, both his masculine and feminine side, draws him in. How he discovers this, through spying on Piker with the cameras he’s installed is some pure voyeuristic hotness. Beyond the physical attraction, he shouldn’t be falling for Piker at all since he’s tasked with protecting him…there’s a lot of play here with the bodyguard trope that is so very good. Talk about some sizzling sex too, once they end up going for it, Piker pushes Chris (albeit gently at first) to explore his boundaries and the more these two go the hotter it gets.

The final act of this book was a harrowing ride as Chris and Piker have to decide how much they trust each other and what their trust level is with everyone else around them. Plus, L.A. writes some wicked good action scenes. Like all my favorite suspense books, I didn’t figure this out until L.A. revealed it and it was nothing I could’ve imagined. I’ll definitely read more of L.A.’s brand of suspense because I loved how she told the story.

Kudos must be given to Michael Ferraiuolo for his narration. This was the first book of his I’ve listened to and I’m a huge fan. I totally get why L.A. uses him all the time. He managed a large cast extremely well along with some characterizations that I won’t go into here because of the spoiler factor. Let’s just say it was stunning.

So if you want a great work of romantic suspense with some great cyber elements, action, sizzling sexy times and bodyguard tropes, pick up L.A. Witt’s Blood & Bitcoin.

Safe Harbor by H J Welch. Reviewed by Will.
A couple of weeks ago when we were on Smart Podcast, Trashy Books, I mentioned that I was reading Safe Harbor by H J Welch. And when I described the book to Sarah Wendell, she was like, “Oh, that’s some tropey goodness.” And, yes, it certainly is. I love this book from beginning to end because it ticked off so many boxes for me.

The story revolves around a guy named Robin. And he and his best friend, Payton, are looking for a roommate. They live in Seattle, and they need the extra income in order to afford their teeny tiny apartment.

Things aren’t going well until they discover straight ex-Marine, Dair. He seems like a dream come true and it turns out he ends up being the perfect roommate. They’re all getting along really, really well for a couple of weeks until one day, Robin is bemoaning the fact that he’s going to have to return to his small hometown to go to his high school reunion. Not because he doesn’t want to see his family and friends, but because that means he’s probably gonna run into his ex boyfriend, a guy named Mac, who was a total psycho, emotionally abusive, jerkwad.

So Peyton comes up with the brilliant idea of having Dair essentially escort Robin back home. He can sort of serve as a buffer. He doesn’t really need a bodyguard, but if he pretends to be Robin’s boyfriend, that’ll definitely keep Mac at arms length. So being the nice guy that Dair is, he, willingly agrees.

Off they go back to Pine Cove. Along the way, they have that brief road trip and they get to know each other even better. And Robin continues to realize that not only is Dair, like the nicest guy possible. He’s also a genuinely good friend.

When they arrive in town, Robin’s family immediately falls in love with Dair, because who wouldn’t, he’s big and strong and nice. He wins everybody over. As they spend more and more time together, they realize that these feelings of friendship might be something more.

Of course, there’s the wonderful trope that they ended up staying at the family house and sleeping together in Robin’s old room.

So the cornerstone of any fake relationships story’s the moment when our two main characters have to address the elephant in the room, whether the, the fake relationship that they’re perpetuating is actually genuinely real. Eventually, Dair and Robin. come to terms that they probably want to be more than friends with one another.

When they end up sleeping together, it is amazing for both of them. Robin, finds it hard to believe that sex could ever be this good and Dair who’s never been with a man before. It’s like, yeah. “Oh my God, this was amazing. Why haven’t I done this before?” So our two heroes are happy and shmoopy and totally in love.

Unfortunately, Mack manages to squirm and manipulate his way in between our two heroes, especially on the night of the town fun fair. There’s a carnival where he kind of gets close to Robin and sort of plants the seed of doubt in his mind. Like maybe Dair is just a straight guy trying to sew his gay wild oats and it won’t be long before he returns to women, that kind of thing, which seems really stupid when I explain it right now, but the way that, H J Welsh uses the Mac character as sort of a horrible, emotionally manipulative, douche bag. It’s really quite admirable. He’s horrible, horrible person. And, unfortunately, Robyn begins to fall for it and doubt his feelings, or, well, actually he doubts what Dair might actually be feeling.

So the night of the big reunion finally arrives and our two heroes are sort of questioning the sort of jump that they’ve taken to be actual boyfriends. When Robin finally sees Mac for who he really is, understands his true manipulative colors, and after a near death experience on a rickety boat on the middle of a lake, Robin realizes that Dair is in fact the one for him.

There’s a wonderful little epilogue where we flash forward a couple of months where Robin and Dair have started a brand new life together in Pine Cove. It is sweet and wonderful and everything I could ever want in a super-duper tropey romance.

The second book in this series features Robin’s flamboyant friend Emery, who’s one of the really wonderful secondary characters that we encounter when our heroes return to Pine Cove. I’m really looking forward to that story as well. I think this was a fantastic book to kick off the “Small Towns” series. Quick note, I listened to the audiobook and it was read by Nick J. Russo, and he does a wonderful job. And so I highly recommend “Safe Harbor” by H J Welsh.

The Secret of the Carrot Medallions by Catherine Dair. Reviewed by Will.
Something else I read this past week was a really delightful graphic novel called The Secret of the Carrot Medallions. This is by Catherine Derr, and it features her two adorable little pride buddies, Skip and Pip. This is their very first full-length adventure and it is an utter delight. One day Skip and Pip are sitting around and they’re marveling at the fact that a story about a bunny has hit the bestseller list and they think that their story might make an awful nice novel.

But Pip thinks that it might be a little bit boring, so why doesn’t Skip make them into pirates? So that’s what he decides to do. The Secret of the Carrot Medallions is the book that he wrote, and it’s about Pip, who is a Royal Navy officer, and he’s tasked with investigating the infamous pirate Skip. He gets a job sailing on the ship and he soon discovers that they aren’t the bad kind of pirates. They’re the do-gooding kind of pirates.

They love to do good deeds and help people in need. While they’re sailing together, Pip falls for Skip. They eventually have to find a way to always be together and sail off into the proverbial sunset.

What’s really funny is that after the pirate story, we learn a little bit more about Skip’s life as a published author. It’s utterly adorable and I highly recommend everyone check it out. As we are heading into the holiday season, if you happen to have friends or family with children coming over, if you have an edition of this Skip and Pip story handy, I’m sure it would entertain the kiddies.