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By Monique Duclos

IR Rating:
With an adorable slow-burn romance sprinkled with bursts of exciting action, Monique Duclos’s INKED CAFFEINE introduces lovable characters for a genre-blended series.
IR Approved
A tattoo artist and a barista move from friends to lovers while terror lurks in the background in Monique Duclos’s lifelike gay romance INKED CAFFEINE.

Monique Duclos’s contemporary romance novel INKED CAFFEINE begins with a sweet meet-cute: tattoo artist Jimmy orders a black coffee from Starbucks worker Dallas and is so flustered by his attraction that he grabs a handful of sugar packets on his way out. A morning coffee routine develops into a strong friendship, with Jimmy caring for Dallas when his apartment burns down and when an assault on the street results in several broken bones. Over many months, Jimmy and Dallas develop feelings for each other, and their romance blossoms. However, six escaped convicts in the Los Angeles area begin wrecking havoc across the county, and their terror will reach Jimmy and Dallas sooner than they think.

While the book’s pace is slow and steady until it approaches the end, the slow burn serves the romance plot well. Much of Jimmy and Dallas’s story involves their daily lives: working, hanging out with friends, watching television, and playing with Dallas’s cat. Short bursts of drama—Dallas’s abusive brother’s brutal arrival, for instance—show the characters reacting to traumatic events in ways that build their personalities and make them extremely likable. The ups and downs of the plot line elevate tension and draw the characters closer over the course of the book, which bolsters the reader’s investment in the love story. The slow start gives way to dramatic plot twists until chaos erupts in the book’s final pages in the shape of terrorism foreshadowed over the course of the book. This sudden genre shift from slow-burn romance to action thriller is abrupt and confusing. The book ends with a cliffhanger that is more frustrating than anticipatory.

Also aiding in the development of the characters and their relationship is the expressive dialogue, among the book’s best strengths. Conversations build in tension through words that evoke personalities distinct to the speaker. Precise word choice and lifelike pacing of speech bring the characters alive and heighten the imagery of scenes. Simple actions and short bits of exposition that detail characters’ posture, movements, and expressions also work to convey vivid imagery. Not only do the characters feel real, but so too does their world, at least until the abrupt violent drama in the book’s final pages. Only a few hiccups feel unbelievable, such as only three people working at a Starbucks in busy Los Angeles. On a technical level, grammar, punctuation, and spelling are near flawless, which helps maintain a seamless reading experience.

With an adorable slow-burn romance sprinkled with bursts of exciting action, Monique Duclos’s INKED CAFFEINE introduces lovable characters for a genre-blended series.

~Aimee Jodoin for IndieReader

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