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Strays by A.J. Thomas Release Day Review

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Book Info

About the Author
A.J. Thomas writes romantic suspense. She’s earned a Bachelor’s degree in Literature from the University of Montana and worked in a half-dozen different jobs from law enforcement officer to librarian before settling down. Life as a military spouse has tossed her around the country so many times she doesn’t know how to answer when people ask her where she’s from, but she delights in living as a perpetual tourist, visiting new places and discovering amazing things. 

Her time is divided between taking care of her three young children, experimenting with cooking and baking projects that rarely explode these days, and embarrassing her husband with dirty jokes. When she’s not writing, she hikes, gardens, researches every random idea that comes into her head, and develops complicated philosophical arguments about why a clean house is highly overrated. Her work has won multiple awards, including the 2013 AMB Ovation Award for Best LGBT Inter-racial Romance, and the 2014 Rainbow Award for Best Gay Contemporary Fiction.
Publication Date
September 25, 2018
Available Formats
epub, mobi, pdf
Content Warning
 deals with history of foster care, health issues, scenes of violence/danger
Orphaned at a young age and raised in the foster system, Jory Smith has no idea he’s half incubus. He only knows he has the power to heal people, making himself sick in the process. Exploited by a crooked faith healer who sells his abilities and his life to the highest bidder and then left for dead, Jory flees, falling into a job at a small-town café where he can put his lifelong obsession with baking to good use.

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….

Editor review

1 review
A New Favourite!

 POV: 3rd person, dual POV
 Would I read it again?: Of course!
 Genre: MM, Fantasy, Demons, Magic, May/Dec, Hurt/Comfort
 Pairings: MM
 Heat Level: ★★★☆☆

 This was my first book by the author and it won't be my last! Strays is a well crafted, well executed urban-fantasy novel with a host of characters to tug at your heart strings, and a plot that keeps you engaged right until the end.

 I'll admit that, in some urban-fantasy settings, some authors tend to lack the necessary background, attention to detail, or true-to-life reactions that are required when telling a human about the underlying supernatural world around them. This book had done of those issues. I totally believed and understood Jory's reaction to all things supernatural – he had, after all, spent his entire life believing that there was something 'supernatural' about his own healing abilities, even if he didn't truly understand it. So, while there were some instances of Mal or Selma saying/hinting at supernatural elements of their lives, it was perfectly reasonable for Jory not to make a big deal out of it, to think them just a little strange and weird, maybe even believing that they joking. Considering all that he'd seen throughout his time with the church, as he said himself, he'd seen and heard his fair share of weird and nothing was going to surprise him anymore.

 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 do admit that the whole “blow up” over Mal's big secret was inevitable. I saw it coming miles off, but I always had that little sprinkle of hope and expectation that he was about to tell Jory and, for once, he almost did quite a few times. I liked that; it refreshed that old-standard trope of “I kept a secret that you're going to misinterpret” (which I'll admit, I kind of love).

 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.

 I'm a sucker for a good paranormal/fantasy novel and this one reminded me of two of my favourites – by tone, rather than plot – so if you're a fan of Damned If You Do by Marie Sexton or The Little Crow by Caitlin Ricci, then you're going to love this book just as much as I did. It has the same urban-fantasy setting, the clever plotting and great characterisation that made me fall in love with both books.


 Favourite Quotes

 “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.”

 ““Wait, you actually killed a dragon?” Mal asked, looking horrified.
 “I didn't let him stay dead!” he cried. “And now I'm making him cookies! That has to count for something, doesn't it?””
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