- Strays by A.J. Thomas Release Day Review
Strays by A.J. Thomas Release Day ReviewHot
But the minister who exploited him wants him back.
Exiled hellhound-turned–bounty hunter Malpheus Pelle has no idea why his human client wants him to track down an incubus. Jory is traumatized and afraid to touch anyone, an emotional handicap that could prove fatal for a demon who requires physical contact. Needing answers, Mal concocts a disastrous plan: pretend to date Jory to uncover the truth. Unfortunately, his plan never included dealing with an ancient demon assassin, Jory’s orgasmic pumpkin cookies, or losing his heart to the incubus he’s supposed to be hunting….
Personally, I loved that aspect. Not enough urban-fantasy stories have a main character who is willing to accept that anything is possible. Especially when they have their own powers. For me, Jory was a charming and naturally-flawed human character right from the start, who I could relate to and who I liked reading about. Similarly, Mal might be a Hellhound and a demon, but he was also human enough from his long years stuck on Earth in the human world, that he came across as someone you could meet anywhere in the world and not blink an eye at. Both of the MC's were realistic, reasonable adults, who had their secrets, their doubts, their troubles, and were strangers enough to each other that they didn't feel able to share them with each other.
The relationship between Mal and Jory was adorable right from the start. The way that Mal was so instantly taken by his 'cookies' scent, and then by Jory himself. I love even more than we got most of their first few meetings through Jory's eyes, so that very little of Mal's thoughts and experiences were explained until we'd had that little moment of uncertainty, mysterious staring, and the few awkward moments where they actually spoke to each other. I loved that Mal was so off-guard, so off-balance around Jory, and how it left him flailing for how to act and speak, at first.
For me, regardless of what the primary genre of the book is, if the romance isn't believeable then it shouldn't be there. I bought Mal and Jory from the first moment. From Mal discovering Jory's cookbook to Jory bringing him a plate for Louise, the chemistry was palpable, the longing looks were adorable, and the awkward moments were a joy to witness, before anything actually happened between them in the bedroom. I loved that they took the time to talk, to spend time together, and to get to know one another – even if there was a hidden wall between them that they were unaware of, because of their secrets – because it meant that when they finally got together, it made sense. I was rooting for them.
I also love that he just instantly assumed that because his sense of Jory being an incubus was so strong, that Jory automatically knew he was an incubus. Selma made the same mistake and didn't realise it until very late on in the book, which only goes to show even more how well Jory's character was written to be accepting of the weird and wonderful world he'd been thrust into – because no one ever thought he was unaware of himself or who/what they were, the whole time.
I really enjoyed the writing style and the dual POV. The writing style was right up my alley, with the great balance between descriptive and letting the plot do the talking, a good understanding of when to show and when to tell, and a really nice characterisation that kept each character a unique individual, while making them relateable with human qualities, even if they weren't human. The world building was done slowly, introducing us to Jory's human world first, letting us feel comfortable in a contemporary setting that we, as humans, could relate to and understand. Then, slowly, the supernatural element was introduced through his healing ability, then given full-scale exploration through Mal's POV. I love that it was done that way, because it allowed my tired mind to transition slowly and gradually from human to supernatural.
The aspect with the faith healers, the religious scan, the evangelical psychic surgery, was one that I've read before, but it had a fresh twist here in that even Jory, the one with real healing ability, didn't buy it or want to continue with it. I liked that there was that element of “the real” with the tasks he performed for the church, despite how it might have ended.
When it comes to side/secondary characters, I have to admit that I loved Neal right from the start. He's exactly my kind of anti-social, snarky, laid back kind of guy. I was curious about him right from the start, but when the little slips of information began to seep in that he was more than he seemed, I got all excited trying to figure out what part he played and how it came together. All while loving the way that he took care of Jory, no matter what, even when it came to confronting Mal about his wellbeing and giving that big-brother type of warning “you break his heart and I'll break your legs” kind of thing. When Keygen was introduced, I immediately thought that he would be perfect for Neal, but now I'm just left hoping that the way the story ended means there will be another book. There was a hint of questions unanswered, of things unfinished, outside of the main plot, and I'd love to see a book for Neal, Keygen, and Asmodeus. Especially if it was for all three, if you get my drift. ;)
Was there anything I found jarring, confusing, or didn't like? Not really. For an ARC, it was excellently edited. I didn't note one mistake as I was reading, so if any existed they skipped right over me and didn't affect my reading or the flow at all. I was a bit taken aback by the six-month skip in timeline in Chapter 2 – it may have been much more easily accepted and understood had there been a timeline heading under the chapter name just saying “Six Months Later” or if the first chapter had been a Prologue. I did stumble over the timeline a little, at that point, but it was a fleeting issue and one that made sense once the six-month-later reveal was made.
“When it was his turn and Jory Smith smiled at him, the world fell away around him. He swallowed hard, readily admitting to himself that this case might be the death of him more ways than one.”