Title: Strays (Urban Soul #2)
Author: Garrett Leigh
Publication Date: March 25, 2017
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Rating: ★★★★★/ 5 Stars
Genre: Contemporary, M/M romance
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.
Separately they were drifters, but together they’d made a home.
Trigger Warning: Stalking and mention of past physical and mental abuse.
You’re probably wondering why the heck I’m reading a second book in a series… The answer is because I AM NOT READY FOR THE FIRST BOOK and since these can be standalones, I figured I’ll start with one that suits my mood better. This was recommended to me by Tristina Wright and whoa, she did not fail me… not one bit.
As you can read from the blurb (who reads blurbs these days?), this book is about Lenny and Nero, who come to live together under real nasty circumstances. Lenny needs to escape his stalker and Nero literally cannot say no to Cass (his best friend and like… number one crush, who also is the MC for the first book.) Hence, Lenny ends up sleeping on Nero’s couch.
First thing first, this book deals a lot with character growth since these characters have such intense pasts and trauma that no amount of canoodling can ease it besides gradual understanding. What I really appreciated is the lack of a “miracle” cure to MI (as both suffered from some version of stress disorder that made Lenny a tad bit agrophobic and Nero overall shut off emotionally) and rather had the two men, with their baggage, wrestle their demons.
Second of all, there is no lack of fluff in this. You’ll find yourself very hungry since Nero is a chef at a restaurant called Pippa’s (I think) and he basically does everything from prep, to grill, and even make desserts… Need me a man like Nero. While Lenny is a newbie at the kitchen work, he is a quick study and takes no time in getting himself acquainted with the kitchen. I loved the grind in their work. It felt so good to read about how these two strangers naturally gravitated to one another because of a shared passion, no matter how hidden this passion might seem. For every grunt Nero made, Lenny would smile and quip. They had that easy chemistry that got you hooked from page 30. The romance in this book is on the slow-burn side, which kept me so attached. To the last page, Lenny and Nero were finding new things in one another to appreciate and support.
Third of all, I personally appreciated that Nero’s character, while coming off as a stereotypical stoic and non-smiling man, is actually the opposite of that. He’s quite caring and it’s obvious from the first omelette he makes Lenny, while totally caring for Lenny’s preferences (Lenny doesn’t eat meat or bread that isn’t gluten-free). Even when it came to the sex scenes, they had such a good conversation about positions that erases the entire rigidness I sometimes see in erotic m/m books where one man has to top always and another has to bottom. Nero was a stereotypical top but he was not. They both actually were versatile and the explanation to this was so beautifully done that I had to applaud Leigh her ability to convey such a good message about the roles men take on in m/m relationship that didn’t set them in heteronormative binds.
Fourth of all, Nero is bisexual. Hallelujah. His past relationships are all with women but that never invalidates his feelings (romantic and sexual) towards men. Lenny respects Nero’s label since he himself is gay.
Fifth of all (When Will I Stop?), I am so happy to have a character like Lenny who did not give a damn about how “flamboyant” he looked. He wore makeup and changed his hair color into pinks and blues without giving a damn. And although he asked Nero his opinion, it didn’t seem to me that he was insecure about it. It felt like he just wanted to know what Nero thought of it. Having a character who is into these things but be very confident in his masculinity was so refreshing. I probably fell in love with Lenny as quickly as Nero did.
Overall, I really enjoyed and liked this book. I’d recommend to fans of good romance books that center men in love.
Little things I liked:
- This book is set in Britain? It took me like a second to get used to the change of lingo, but it was overall great.
- Cass, Jake, and Tom are in a polyamory relationship and it’s respected by everyone.
- Jake has TS and that is done very well. Nothing offense popped out to me.
- Lenny is an artist and he uses those affinities to help Nero with a project of his.
- I think there is a tiny age gap between Lenny who is supposed to be a first year at uni, and Nero who I think is 26…
- Although both men came with baggage, neither was forced to disclose their pasts, they were given time to feel comfortable and although Lenny did feel like he didn’t know Nero enough, he still grew to have romantic feelings for the man.
Have you read anything by Leigh? If yes, recommend me something similar to Strays! If no, try Strays? It’s excellent.
About the Author
When not writing, Garrett can generally be found procrastinating on Twitter, cooking up a storm, or sitting on her behind doing as little as possible, all the while shouting at her menagerie of children and animals and attempting to tame her unruly and wonderful FOX.