Monday, March 27, 2017

Strays by Garrett Leigh

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.

Add to Goodreads –

Book 2
Buy Links

Amazon US  ~  Amazon UK  ~  Amazon Au  ~  Amazon Ca
B&N  ~  iTunes  ~  Kobo
Riptide Publishing

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

This is definitely my favourite read of the year so far – and I will be going back to read the first in the series as soon as I get a chance. Even though I know the outcome I am sure that the journey will be worth it, in fact I am not sure how I missed it in the first place. But back to Strays...

This is one of those wonderful books which will demand that you keep turning the pages, because every word matters and at no point do you want to stop... there is a great mix of tension, passion, and the development of a deep and meaningful friendship.

The environment in which these men work is essential to this story. Urban Soul is restaurant business owned by three men who live and work together, and who place great importance on their staff. One of them finds Lenny breaking down due to his stalker and asks Nero, their top chef, to look after him. Having worked in the industry myself, I know that such philanthropic behaviour is rare, but makes for a good plot. It was fun for me to be back in that world, and it is really well described. It is the perfect place for these two damaged people to meet and get a chance at making a good future together. I will say no more, as it is for you to enjoy fresh.

I cannot wait until the next book comes out, because this series is fabulous.

I love Garrett Leigh’s books and I can’t stop fangirling over her Urban Soul stories. This second book is the story of Nero, Urban Soul’s slightly snarly kitchen manager, and Lenny, the young waiter he is charged with protecting. I loved Nero from the moment he was introduced in Misfits and I was thrilled to read his story.

As always, Garrett Leigh’s men are tortured souls. When we first meet Lenny, he is terrified and hiding from a stalker. However, it is actually Nero’s heartbreaking past that prevents the relationship between the two men becoming truly intimate. As a couple, these two are perfect together – the med student turned go-go dancer is a sparkly contrast to the surly, almost silent chef. The chemistry between them is a beautiful slow burn and the sex is unbelievably hot.

Beyond the angst fuelled romance, I absolutely love Garrett Leigh’s London in these books. In a genre dominated by American writers and settings, Leigh’s British English is a joy to read. The dialogue feels natural and I love the familiar phrases and references. I smiled when even Lenny struggled with one of Cass and Nero’s Cockney references. London’s many diverse neighbourhoods are celebrated in both of the Urban Soul books and I love the way the many restaurants are matched to individual neighbourhoods. Urban Soul’s many variations on slightly pretentious hipster food are instantly recognisable – these books make me hungry!

Sexy, sweet, and angsty, I loved this story so much. It probably works as a stand-alone novel but readers should really start with Cass, Tom, and Jake’s story in the first book, Misfits. This is such a wonderful series!

As Misfits was the first of Garrett Leigh’s novels I read (and loved by the way), I was ecstatic when I learned the author had written a sequel, thus creating the Urban Soul series. Being that Urban Soul is their company, it’s not surprising that Cass, Tom, and Jake have significant roles in Strays, but it is not a continuation of their story – at least not directly. Rather, it is the story of two of Cass’s strays – Nero and Lenny. If you’ve read Misfits, you will likely remember Nero and rest assured, he’s just as cantankerous this time around. Well, he is until Lenny triggers his protective instincts, along with his bisexuality. If you haven’t read Misfits, no worries as Strays can be read as a standalone; with that said, I do recommend Misfits as it was an excellent read.

Our introduction to Lenny is sad, frustrating, and frightening as we begin with him trying to get the police’s help with his stalker – a stalker he has no proof of because, like many victims, fear caused him to delete or destroy the evidence of his stalker’s attempts to contact him. Lenny is at the end of his rope and when his stalker tracks him down to his job at Misfits, his world comes crashing down around him. Fortunately for Lenny, Cass has a weakness for strays and helping out those in need, so Lenny soon finds himself working in the one unbranded Urban Soul restaurant under the watchful eye of Nero. Although Nero initially bristles at the idea of taking on an untrained assistant and unwanted roommate, he soon finds that Lenny’s presence soothes him. Something about the young man calls to Nero in a way he’s only experienced once before – with Cass. As the men work together and live together, their lives become entwined and they become vital to one another – so much so that neither can imagine going a day without the other in it, even if there are no declarations of love. Yet things come to a head when Lenny’s stalker is apprehended and the cloud that has hovered over him clears, making Nero’s cloud more ominous. Unlike Lenny, Nero refuses to talk about his past and this drives a wedge between them as Lenny feels like Nero doesn’t trust him. And how can you have love without trust? When Lenny finally breaks down Nero’s walls and learns of his brutal past – scars and all – Nero finally realizes that what Cass and the others have tried to tell him for years is true, that he deserves a life filled with love and a chance to be happy. But he and Lenny both must shake off the ghosts of their pasts before they can have a future together.

Leigh never fails to impress me with how complex her characters are and how their complexities – their flaws, their pain, and their joy – make them seem so real. Lenny was, for me, an easy character to love. He is a happy and vibrant young man whose light is dimmed by a force outside of his control, yet he tries to stay positive and find joy in life where he can despite being the target of a stalker. He is a wonderful complement to the grouchy Nero, a man who wears his past like a pair of lead shackles, a man who has devoted himself to Urban Soul out of loyalty to Cass and the need to stay so busy that his memories can’t suffocate him. I will admit that Nero’s past was far worse than I imagined and certainly not the usual “broken man” scenario. It explains so much about him, yet makes the man that Nero has become that much more impressive because he could have easily scoffed at Cass’s help all those years ago and taken a darker path in life. I loved watching how Nero and Lenny became so wrapped up in one another, enmeshed in one another’s lives, even though they didn’t mean to. Of course, that made their conflicts more painful to witness because I was so invested in them as individuals and as a couple, hoping that these two damaged men could find peace and happiness with one another. Although the author took me on a rather unexpected and exciting route, she eventually delivered me to an ending even better than I had hoped for. Strays was a delightful expansion of the Urban Soul series and I sincerely hope that the author has more in store for this extended family of misfits.

Also Available in the Urban Soul Series

Book 1
Buy Links

Amazon US  ~  Amazon UK  ~  Amazon Au  ~  Amazon Ca
B&N  ~  iTunes  ~  Kobo
Riptide Publishing

For reviews & more info, check out our Misfits post.

Garrett Leigh is a British writer and book designer, currently working for Dreamspinner Press, Loose Id, Riptide Publishing, and Black Jazz Press. Her protagonists will always be tortured, crippled, broken, and deeply flawed. Throw in a tale of enduring true love, some stubbly facial hair, and a bunch of tattoos, and you’ve got yourself a Garrett special.

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. That, and dreaming up new ways to torture her characters. Garrett believes in happy endings; she just likes to make her boys work for it.

Garrett also works as a freelance cover artist for various publishing houses and independent authors. For cover art info, please visit

Connect with Garrett

Facebook  ~  Twitter  ~  Google+  ~  Blog  ~  Goodreads

Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Strays (Urban Soul #2) by Garrett Leigh to read and review.

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