Review. Guest Post, and Giveaway: Dark & Dazzling: Elizabeth Varlet

Dark & Dazzling (Sassy Boyz #2)
Elizabeth Varlet
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Released November 7, 2016

Z doesn't need a hero...

Azariah “Z” Hayes is a diamond. Equal parts strength and sparkle, he’s more than capable of standing on his own stilettos. So if waiting tables and stripping at The Vibe are what it takes to keep a roof over his head, well, there are worse ways to earn a living.

Connelly is a white knight with a badge…

For NYPD Detective Connelly Reid, to serve and protect is just another day at the office--even if that means protecting himself from his own true desires. He’s been curious about Z, his waiter, for months but it’s not until he sees him in his makeup & heels that the curiosity becomes a fierce attraction. Z, despite all his over-the-top dazzle, might just be the man Connelly has been waiting for his entire life.

But when Connelly investigates underground porn and drug activity with ties to The Vibe, one thing becomes very clear –acting on what he knows will hurt Z, financially and emotionally. And though Connelly would love nothing more than to fix all of Z’s problems, no amount of mind-blowing sex can make Z comfortable becoming dependent on his lover. Yet if there’s one thing Connelly knows from his years on the force, it's this: when things go bad, you need a trusted partner to have your back.
Azariah Hayes Character Interview
By Elizabeth Varlet

I want to thank Reviews by Tammy and Kim for having me back to celebrate the release of book two in my Sassy Boyz series, Dark & Dazzling. 

Dark & Dazzling is the love story between Sassy Boy, Azariah “Z” Hayes and Detective Connelly Reid. It’s a much different story than book one because Z is a darker character.  Check out the character interview below to get to know him a little better. 

1. If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?
Z: I’d lounge at home smoking Black, eating cake, and fucking.

2. What impression do you make on people when they first meet you? How about after they've known you for a while?
Z: I don’t make good first impressions, most people think I’m an asshole. Once they get to know me they realize I am a bitch instead. 

3. What's your idea of a good marriage? Do you think that'll happen in your life?
Z: Hah! Are you kidding me? Wait…you’re serious? Is that a serious fucking question? Fuck off. 

4. What are you most proud of about your life? 
Z: Despite everything, I survived. 

5. What are you most ashamed of in your life? 
Z: You’ll have to read my book to find that out. *hangs head*

6. If you could spend the day with someone you admire (living or dead or imaginary), who would you pick?
Z: My darling, Jack Kerouac. 

7. Do you think you've turned out the way your parents expected?
Z: Hell no. I’m pretty sure my mother wanted me to be a rockstar or some ridiculous thing like that. 

8. What do you believe about God? 
Z: I believe if there is a God, she’s a complete bitch. 

9. Is there anything you've always wanted to do but haven't done? What would happen if you did it?
Z: I’ve always wanted to act. If I ever got the chance, I’d probably stink. Anyway, dancing with the boys is close enough. 

10. What's the worst thing that's happened in your life? What did you learn from it?
Z: My mother dying. I learned that having control over your own life is more important than anything else. It is freedom. 

11. Tell me about your best friend. How did you meet? What do you like about this person? What do they like about you?
Z: Ansel and I met on the streets. We were both homeless and spending time at this LGBTQ shelter, Prism Center. Our love of fashion and color and, eventually, dance brought us closer. I bought my first pair of heels with Ansel. I love his confidence and strength. I love that he’s not afraid of anything. You’d have to ask him what he likes about me. I like to think it’s my charming sense of humor. 

12. What's the worst thing you've ever done to someone? Why did you do it? 
Z: I’ve never been worst to anyone than I am to myself. I guess I’m a secret masochist. 

13. What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
Z: Here lies Z, the snarkiest motherfucker to ever wear heels. Dance forever, Darling. 

14. Describe your ideal mate.
Z: *tiny smile* He walks like a cowboy, has a cleft chin and dimples when he smiles. His eyes are warm whenever he looks at me and he fucks like a god. 

15. What are you most afraid of?
Z: Losing the freedom I’ve sacrificed so much to have. 

16. What's the most important thing in your life? What do you value most?
Z: My adopted family. They are everything. 

17. What do you like best about yourself? Least?
Z: My quick wit? I don’t know. I guess that’s pretty good. Least? Well, I wish I could be a more positive person, like Lirim. 

18. What do you like best about dancing with the Sassy Boyz?
Z: What is not to like? I get paid to dance. The costumes are divine and it makes me feel sexy as hell. 

19. How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?
Z: I’m in a decent place right now. I had to go through a ton of crap to get here, but that makes me appreciate it more, you know? I don’t want to change anything. 

20. Are you lying to yourself about something? What is it?
Z: Not anymore. I’ve been there, done that, and have the scars to prove it. I’m through being an idiot. Lesson learned. 

So, there you have it. I hope you learned something about Z. He’s a tough nut to crack, but once you get inside it’s all gooey and warm. Is there something you’d like to ask him? If so, what is it? 

Please check out Dark & Dazzling and get to know the rest of the characters. 

As is often the case when I read and review a second book in a series, my immediate reaction to Elizabeth Varlet’s Dark & Dazzling is to draw comparisons between it and its predecessor, Fierce & Fabulous. Both of these feature a go-go dancer who prefers to dress with gender-bending flair being paired with a more stereotypically alpha masculine love interest. Both also have a troubling darker side to them to keep them from being all glitter and glam. Even with these similarities, though, the feel of Dark & Dazzling is much different than the first novel.

Having spent much of his teenage years orphaned, Azariah “Z” Hayes is a survivor. He’s learned how to make it through his troubles and stand on his own. He has also always known who he is, and it’s a source of pride for him to reveal his dazzle with makeup, dancing, and heels. But he also knows if he wants to make tips at his other job as a restaurant server, he needs to keep it toned down, especially now that his roommate unexpectedly left without leaving any money for his half of the rent. Detective Connelly Reid is a regular at the restaurant and has always noticed Z, but it’s not until they have a run-in while Z is dressed in his full glamour that the detective realizes how much he craves the man. But when one of Connelly’s investigations ties in to the club where Z dances, there’s no way it won’t cause a problem between them.

As with the previous novel, the pairing in Dark & Dazzling is intriguing. Z’s personality comes through regardless of which mode he’s in: he’s upfront, sarcastic, fiercely independent, and more than a little sassy. And even though he doesn’t believe he deserves a happily-ever-after, nor does he really believe in long-term relationships, there’s something about the detective that grabs his attention, and it’s not the fact that he finishes lunch with a hot-fudge sundae each time he comes in. Connelly very much fits the persona of the nickname many on the force call him, Boy Scout. One of his most prominent traits is that whether it’s his younger sister or his ex-boyfriends, he has always needed to help those important to him. Of course, since he’s a cop, he also has an intensity about him, a dominance that gets people to do what he wants. I had no problem believing the relationship between them, but while the chemistry between them was good, it didn’t leap off the page in the way I was expecting after reading the first novel.

In contrast, one of the problems I had with the first novel is something I thought the author handled much better in this one. Both novels have a grittiness to them that makes for the potential for some good angst. In my review of Fierce & Fabulous, I commented that everything seemed to resolve rather quickly and left me a little unsatisfied in that respect. Here though, the darker nature of the events in this story’s plot give it a more dramatic feel. Related to this, it is worth noting a couple of things here in case they are problematic for you. There are two situations which cross into the fuzzy area known as dubious consent, one of which also involves one of the main characters having sex with someone outside the pairing (though this happens before Z and Connelly are beyond the hooking-up stage, so it doesn’t fall in the realm of cheating.)

The blurb hints at one of the key sources for the main conflict in the novel is Azariah’s independence versus Connelly’s white-knight nature. This is one of those tropes that must be handled with care in order for me to believe it’s realistic for the tension to cause major problems within the relationship. We learned in the first book that the four guys in the dancing group have a lot of shared experience and are, in many ways, the only family they really have. So it isn’t surprising to find that Azariah is willing to do whatever it takes to help one of the others in his dancing group. So Azariah’s reaction to Connelly helping him felt a little overdone to me. It certainly didn’t ruin the story, but I didn’t buy into it as much as I would have hoped to make the major final conflict have a strong punch.

Dark & Dazzling is another good read in Elizabeth Varlet’s Sassy Boyz series. I find it a little amusing that the problems I had with this entry, though, are almost the exact opposite problems of those I had with the first book. It’s almost like I’m experiencing a little bit of the Goldilocks effect so far. Nonetheless, I enjoyed both of them, so I’m looking forward to the next one. And I’m hoping it will be the one that’s “just right,” because based on the first two novels in the series, there’s plenty of potential to believe the author is capable of giving that to me.

The author generously provided me a complimentary copy of Dark & Dazzling in exchange for this fair and honest review.

Fierce & Fabulous (Sassy Boyz #1)
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Kim's 4.5 star review & interview with Ansel | Jay's 4 star review

The first book in a scorching new male/male series by Elizabeth Varlet. Behind the Sassy Boyz's seductive smiles and sinful dance moves are desires that will leave readers breathless.

Fitch Donovan never thought a lap dance could change his life, but from the moment the gorgeous dancer’s lips touch his, his world comes screeching to a halt. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t shake the desire that rocks him to his core. He’s longed for this passion all his life—he just never dreamed he’d find it with another man.

Sharing a soul-shaking kiss with a straight boy is the kind of drama Ansel Becke just doesn't need. Spotlights aren't made for two and Ansel prefers to keep things on a one-night-only basis. So when Fitch shows up asking for an encore, Ansel knows he should send his gorgeous ass packing.

Though Ansel tries to pretend that what's between him and Fitch is far from fabulous, there's something about the big, burly contractor that makes Ansel's world sparkle in a way no amount of glitter ever could. And Fitch will do whatever it takes to convince Ansel that when the thing you need most in the world falls right into your lap, you’d be a fool to let it go.

Elizabeth Varlet

Elizabeth Varlet is a thirty-something, newly-married, world-traveler who devours books like they were candy. A nerd at heart, she spends way too many hours binging on episodes of her favorite television shows and dreaming of the day she can adopt a dog—whom she’s already named.

She started writing stories in high school and hasn’t stopped. Now, her characters like to get frisky under the covers. Or the stars, or in a car, or up against the wall—they’re not picky.

Elizabeth believes in love of all shapes and sizes and wants nothing more than to share the beauty in the form of stories.

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