Saturday, November 30, 2019

Killman Creek by Rachel Caine

Wow! I'm totally shook. This book is even better than the first one. In STILLHOUSE LAKE, Gwen, the ex-wife of a sadistic serial killer, tries to keep her family safe from her husband, as well as a copycat killer who is after her kids. In KILLMAN, the copycat is dead but the original survives to torment his family-- and he won't rest until they're either just like him or dead.

With the help of a sympathetic FBI agent willing to go off the books, Gwen and Sam, one of the brothers of her husband's victims, go to seek Melvin out and stop him from hurting any more innocent women. Their search takes them to the dark side of the web, down a rabbit hole of internet trolls, child pornography, snuff films, deep fakes, and conspiracies that basically showcase humanity at its nadir. In order to catch a monster, Gwen must become a monster, and she's forced to question exactly how far she'll go to protect her children and keep them safe from evil.

STILLHOUSE LAKE had slow points but was still a compelling mystery and I was rooting for Gwen, Lanny, and Connor the whole time. KILLMAN CREEK was a different beast. I was still 100% Team Gwen from the very beginning, but by the end of the book I kind of hated her kids. They did terrible things, and were cruel in the selfish, short-sighted way that only kids can be. I felt like Gwen was owed a huge apology that she never really got from those two little assholes, and that pissed me off.

Gwen was practically stripped of her humanity in this book, painted as a villain, and forced to go physical and emotional torture on her quest for justice. Sam was really the only one who stood by her, although I had my doubts about him at several points too. This was such an exhausting book and I guess I have to take my hat off for Rachel Caine being able to show such a broad and empathetic spectrum of human emotion within these 300-or-so pages. I'm honestly blown away.

Thanks to Sage for reading this with me.

5 out of 5 stars

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

DNF @ 18%

I bought this a little while ago because this book has been on my radar for a while and like most people in the public, Ted Bundy name was a familiar one that elicited fear. He killed and raped women by pretending to be injured and luring them to his car, before dumping the bodies. He was an evil man, and the public has a fascination with evil men. People talk about serial killers with awe, make movies about them, write books about their crimes, and it's weird to put people who commit large-scale crimes against humanity on the same scale of importance in our pop-cultural lexicon with athletes and scientists. It feels almost like a celebration of their crimes, even though I know it's (hopefully) not meant to be that way.

Ann Rule was a famous true crime author who worked in crime and law, and understood how things worked in a way that some crime authors don't. She was also in a distinctly unique position in that she worked alongside Ted Bundy himself at a crisis hotline for people who were considering suicide and even thought of him as a friend. Naturally, she was horrified when she found out who he was and what he had done, and I think her brain was frantically trying to do damage control, to figure out how-- or even if-- she'd been fooled, and why.

There's nothing wrong with THE STRANGER BESIDE ME on a purely technical level. The writing is fine and it seems well-researched. It just feels incredibly dull reading about the ordinary private life of a man who committed huge crimes. I don't want to hear about his family life, and I don't want to get to know each young woman whose life he cut short, and who probably died in fear. I don't think crimes like these should be normalized, and if THE STRANGER BESIDE ME was an exercise in catharsis for Ann Rule and gave her the closure she needed, that's fine. But I personally felt bored and a little despairing while reading this, and that's not what I want to feel when I read.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Friday, November 29, 2019

Under His Heel by Adara Wolf

DNF @ 27%

Some people are going to be put off UNDER HIS HEEL because it features brutal non-con sadism and scat (pee-drinking). I actually wasn't that shocked by anything in here because I've read so much erotica that I'm hard to shock at this point. I was more put off by the unpolished writing, lack of connection between the characters, and the fanfiction vibe: it felt like something someone had written for fun, almost as if the author was relying on the existence of preset characterizations within a preexisting universe to set the stage, rather than doing any of the legwork. I'm not sure if this was actually p2p, but it kind of read that way to me.

UNDER HIS HEEL is about Alex, a petty criminal who ends up selling himself into sexual slavery to pay off his and his brother's debts. Unfortunately for him, the man who buys him, Captain Tracht, is a gleeful sadist who likes to flaunt his slaves before his crew, and he gets off on pain and exhibitionism-- and if he can have both, so much the better.

I did like the starship setting and initially I thought UNDER HIS HEEL had a lot of potential. But it was just humiliation scene after humiliation scene and there wasn't a lot of thought or emotion behind anything that was happening. The comedy also seemed ill-placed and gave this story a very odd, tone-deaf vibe that I didn't really think fit the content, even if I chuckled a few times at some of Alex's more stupid decisions. I think if you like fanfiction a lot and are a really big fan of slash-fic, you'll probably like this, but I wasn't that into it, unfortunately.

2 out of 5 stars

One Cut Deeper by Joely Sue Burkhart

I can't believe that this book is written by the same author as QUEEN TAKES KNIGHTS because I loathed the latter, whereas this book has rocketed up the ranks to join some of my other favorite romance novels of all time. ONE CUT DEEPER is criminally underrated, and while I get why because of the content, it's still a damn shame to see something so erotic and so intense go unappreciated by an audience.

ONE CUT DEEPER is about a woman named Ranay Killian. She's a submissive and a painslut, and she just got out of a bad relationship. It wasn't abusive, but the dynamic was toxic and led her to do some behaviors that were bad for her well being. Charlie MacNiall is the attractive owner of a king shepherd who has been bringing his dog to the vet clinic where she's been working for the last year. One day, he asks her to dog sit his king shepherd, but he has an ulterior motive-- he's seen something in her that he also has inside him, and he wants to see her up close and personal.

Charlie is a sadist, and he's also been burned by past relationships. He's interested in the dark stuff, like blood and knife play, and Ranay is only too willing to play along if it pleases him, since she gets off on pain and loves the highs it brings to submission. The only problem is, her shiny new relationship might come with a dark side. A serial killer has been targeting women-- submissive women, like her-- and the authorities have reason to think it might be Charlie.

EVERYTHING about this book was so, so good. I loved the suspense. I loved the development between the two characters. I loved all the effort the author spent getting inside Ranay's head to explain why she liked pain and what being submissive brought to her. The development of the hero was excellent as well, and he was the perfect blend of edgy and hot. The sex scenes were also fantastic. Great dirty talk, some pretty hardcore but still erotic scenes of edgeplay, and in case that wasn't enough, this is also a great romantic suspense with tight plotting.

I seriously can't say enough good things about this book. It's one of my new faves, seriously.

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The PLAIN Janes by Cecil Castellucci

This was so unexpectedly good and it warmed my heart in a way that a book hasn't in a long time. THE PLAIN JANES is one of those books that manages to be hip and empowering without feeling like it's being too heavy-handed, which is a rarity in this day and age. Jane Beckles is a cool, artsy girl suffering from PTSD from a bombing. She feels the world is going crazy, spinning out of control to dark forces, and it's made her jaded.

She and her family moved from the city to the suburbs, and Jane ends up finding her people at a table of misfits all named Jane. There's Jock Jane, Theater Jane, and Science Jane. Art Jane is the missing piece, the one who ends up tying them all together and causing them to be friends, when she gets the idea to stir up their community by creating Banksy-like installation people to get people thinking a little more about the world and their values.

Unfortunately, the authorities only see vandalism instead of art, and the Janes' attempts receive punishments to deter them. But you can't keep a Jane down, and as the P.L.A.I.N. movement gains a foothold in the community, other people in town start waking up to the world around them and feeling a little more free to confront their own demons and embrace who they are.

So yes, obviously I loved this book. I love art, I love installation art, I love the avant garde, and I love girl power. There were so many great messages in here about feminism, activism, diversity, inclusivity, and also being yourself when everyone is trying to squeeze you into a mold. Also, none of the villains were too two-dimensional. Several of them were complex and you could at least understand their motivations, which I really appreciated in a graphic-novel targeted towards teens.

This was a delight and I think it will be a hit with forward-thinking teens!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!  

4 out of 5 stars

The Flash of the Firefly by Parris Afton Bonds

This is one of those older bodice-rippers that came out in the 1970s and man, it shows. It has all the fire and verve of goodies like SWEET SAVAGE LOVE, replete with non-con, offensive racial stereotypes, and hirsute machismo love interests who act like rape is a viable means of courtship. Truly, something like this would never get published today, but as I was explaining to someone the other day, these books provide valuable insight into changing standards within the romance industry, as well as timestamped views on women's sexuality and agency, and perceptions of people of color.

I think if you read books like these with the understanding that they are a product of their times and something to learn from and not emulate (obviously), as well as a guilty pleasure that might not be representative of your own mindset and ideology, it's possible to read books like these with a liberal twenty-first century mindset and still indulge in them. I totally understand why people aren't down with bodice-rippers, though, and the FLASH OF the FIREFLY is certainly not a book to read if you are sensitive to triggers.


The heroine, Anne, grew up in Barbados where she was raised more liberally than she was in Scotland. Her parents, despairing of the influence of the natives, are greatly relieved when a German minister marries her and then travels to Texas, promising to send for her later. Now that time is come and Anne is on her way, but the hubster doesn't bother to meet her at the dock, and she must have an escort in the name of Brant, a brutal, alpha caveman of a mercenary, who resents her presence fiercely. He's attracted to her, too, obviously, and she to him, even if she won't admit it.

Once she meets up with the group of Germans who have settled the Texas town, it seems like that should be the end. It isn't. She isn't attracted to her husband, Otto, at all and that doesn't stop him from taking his marital rights. Then her husband, adoptive daughter, and maid, as well as several townsfolk, are all slaughtered and Anne is taken captive by Native Americans, and becomes the second wife of the chief's son. Brant comes to rescue her, claiming that they're married, and marries her in a blood ceremony before fighting the chief's son to the death.

Then she's taken to a bawdhouse with Brant, where there are more jealous OWs. Brant rapes her a couple times, she decides she might be in love with him. But oh no, Otto returns to take her back and she's pregnant with Brant's baby. One day, filled with rage, and the paranoia of a cholera epidemic, Otto beats her until she runs away to miscarry in a field, before pulling herself up by her bootstraps and basically crawling back to Brant. Also, this whole time she's in love with a man named Colin who she met as a child and has put up on a pedestal all this time, but it isn't until she insults Brant yet again and gets delivered back to Colin that she realizes he isn't exactly the man of her dreams...

This book is CRAZY. The heroine tomcats around with every male character in this book, sometimes willingly and sometimes not. She also gets a whole heap of rape and abuse, which can be hard to stomach. On the other hand, the heroes all remain chaste to the heroine, caught in the thrall of her magical vagina to the point of obsession lol. It was kind of refreshing to see a heroine be the one with all the partners instead of a man for a change, although unfortunately most of them weren't consensual. That said, I really enjoyed the action and the scenery descriptions are so vivid. I haven't liked some of Parris Afton Bonds's books, but this one is almost as good as LAVENDER BLUE.

I was going to read more of this author's books but it looks like many of the ones I've planned to read were pulled off Kindle Unlimited today. If anyone wants to do another BR of her work when they go back up, hit me up and let me know. I love bodice-rippers!

4 out of 5 stars

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

DNF @ p. 121

I think if I stuck with this it could maybe wrest another pity star from me, but I'm really not feeling the book right now. On the one hand, I do appreciate what Mike Chen is trying to do with A BEGINNING AT THE END, a dystopian set in San Francisco after a plague has wiped out 70% of the population.

I have read a lot of dystopians and pandemics are a favorite way to kill all the humans in these sorts of books. Rather than focusing on the chaos and breakdowns of social mores that occur in such devastation, however, this book puts four individuals under the microscope: Krista, a wedding planner; Mojo/Moira, a famous pop star; and Rob and Sunny, a father and daughter who were displaced from their home by the plague, and rather than tell Sunny that her mother is dead, Rob has told her that she's getting treatment-- a lie that is starting to cause his daughter to act out.

It's really great to see science-fiction with diverse characters, set in a reflection of San Francisco that is actually recognizable to those who live there. The grittiness juxtaposed against open-mindedness (with, yes, some sanctimonious-- we are awesome, and we know it) is pretty typically San Francisco, and Chen did a good job portraying it in the setting.

I just wish that more was happening. The pacing was really slow and even though there was nothing wrong with the writing, nothing was happening and I found myself terribly bored. Maybe this will appeal to people who like quiet books that are more introspective but I wasn't really into it.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!  

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Spinster and the Rake by Anne Stuart


I bought the recently rereleased version of THE SPINSTER AND THE RAKE for ninety-nine cents a while ago. Anne Stuart is one of my favorite romance authors, and one of my favorite things to do is scour the backlists of authors who have been around for a while and compare their old to their new.

I guess the new version of this book has been edited and I can only assume it was to add the sex scene, which is racier than one would expect to see in one of these pamphlet-length regency novels from the 1970s and 80s, which are usually quite clean and tame.

THE SPINSTER AND THE RAKE was both hilarious and sad, because the title of this book could easily serve as a summary for the vast majority of her body of work, which tend to feature no-nonsense heroines who end up with rakes and rogues. The writing in here was very dry, lazy, and repetitive, with many of the verbal tics the author employs ("he said gently") being used to almost parodic extremes. That was the hilarious/sad part.

I ended up skimming to about 20% or so and then I read the sex scene, which wasn't good. I don't think it should have been added-- if it was-- since it doesn't fit the restrained tone of the rest of the novel and comes across as, to quote the hero, "rather ghastly." I didn't like Anne Stuart's gothic novel, BARRETT'S HILL, so I'm wondering if maybe her earlier novels just aren't for me. Shame.

1 out of 5 stars

9 Romances Where the Villain Gets the Girl

Villains are kind of a huge deal, and people are always asking me for romance recommendations with villainous or anti-hero leads. I totally get it. I can't tell you how many of my adolescent head-cannons crumbled to ash because some dumb heroine made the totally wrong choice and chose Raoul or real life, instead of consorting with the Phantom in his watery chambers or frolicking through the Labyrinth with Jareth for all eternity. No, the relationships aren't healthy. Yes, I ship the fuck out of those obsessive, borderline psychotic motherfuckers, anyway.

Romancelandia is a safe space.

So, without ado, here are some of my favorite or most memorable villain romances. Please keep in mind that because these heroes are villainous, sometimes they do bad things, and trigger warnings may apply.

Have a villain romance that isn't on this list?

⬇️ Tell me about it in the comments ⬇️.


9. LEMONADE by Nina Pinacchi
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

Genre: Historical romance

Not really sure how to describe this book except it's like if you took the plot of Hana Yori Dango and drop-kicked it into a regency romance setting. Christopher is a tortured man with a dark past who has come seeking revenge. When Anna, a headstrong wallflower, offends his honor, she taps into that dark, boiling part of him he tries so desperately to hide, and it becomes a game of revenge between them.

Heads up that this book is brutal and the hero does rape the heroine. There is one hell of a groveling arc, and enough angst to drown an entire island of cuddly bears, but the hero is very cruel in the beginning. It works though because it ends up becoming a toxic character study where two damaged people find redemption against all odds, but man, is it grim. Also, this book is translated from Italian so there are some unusual word choices that some may find offputting but I found endearing.

8. MIDNIGHT HUNTER by Brianna Hale
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

Genre: Historical romance

This book was quite a controversy when it came out because people were (mistakenly) saying it was a Nazi romance that romanticized Nazis. It is not that. It is actually set during the Cold War, and the "hero" is a Stasi officer who arrests the heroine as a potential traitor. He did work in the Nazi government but not in the SS. I felt like the author did her best to show the horrors of what it was like working and living under a post-Hitler Germany, and the grim fugue of guilt and poverty that hung over people who did terrible things not realizing (or not wanting to realize) the effects their actions had on those who were especially vulnerable to the Nazis.

The heroine, Evony, is initially disgusted by Reinhardt, and it takes her a while to begin to feel anything tender towards him at all. Initially her plan is to kill him or sell him out for revenge. It's a very morally complex romance that touches upon a lot of serious subjects you don't normally encounter in historical romance. I get why this book was controversial and I don't blame people for not wanting to read about it if the subject is triggering or upsetting for personal reasons, but I also don't necessarily believe that historical romance should always be safe or easy; history wasn't.

My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My Blog Review: [⭐️]

Genre: Fantasy romance

I did this as a buddy read with one of my friends and we were kind of blown away by how good it is. The author has studied medieval history and she uses that knowledge to weave a tapestry of a pretty terrifying world where religion is used to oppress its people and magic is looked upon with suspicion. The heroine actually ends up marrying a demon necromancer lord to save her sister, only to discover that he's far more charming and attractive than she bargained for. This is no Edward and Bella romance, though-- Tristan, the hero, is every inch the bad man the people say he is.

Isla is a strong heroine (at least in this book) and her growing attraction to Tristan is so well done. I would compare the world building and the characters to those of Tanith Lee or R. Lee Smith, two of my favorite authors of all time. The other books in the series aren't quite as good as this one, but I still enjoyed them a lot, and if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read them all for free.

Definitely a must for fans of dark and intricate fantasy novels, especially if you like Game of Thrones but wish it was a little less male-centric.

6. SHADOW HEART by Laura Kinsale
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My Blog review: [⭐️]

Genre: Medieval romance

I almost NEVER like medieval romances but I LOVED this one. Part of that was because of the gorgeous writing and part of that was because of the angsty and oh-so-attractive assassin, Allegreto, who also doubles as a nobleman and pirate. He kidnaps the heroine, drugs the heroine, tells the heroine they had sex while she was unconscious, only to say JK! and rape her later.

He ends up falling for her but it basically costs him his soul. At the end of the book he is a hot mess, suicidal, depressed, and despairing. The heroine is also a latent fem-dom, and he welcomes her abuses gladly. I'm shocked that this book wasn't banned when it came out, because it has some truly racy scenes in it, but I'm guessing that innocent-looking cover kept out the unwary, and people who did read it probably kept their gleefully dirty secret underwraps.

Laura Kinsale is an author who has yet to disappoint me. Her writing is gorgeous and she has really great characters in interesting situations. No wallpaper historicals for her, my no!

5. RUTHLESS by Anne Stuart
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My Blog review: [⭐️]

Genre: Georgian romance

I kind of feel like my Goodreads friends want to muzzle me whenever I talk about this book because I talk about it ALL THE TIME. It's the gold standard I hold all of Anne Stuart's books to, as well as all books about rakes (well, that and Duke of Sin-- more on that later). Rohan is a debauched viscount who lords over a depraved gentleman's club called the Heavenly Host that does all sorts of things, like orgies, black masses, etc. When Elinor's syphilis-infected mother falls into his clutches, Elinor confronts him head on and he finds her no-nonsense prudery so amusing that he decides to blackmail her into dealing with him a little more-- ahem-- personally.

All I have to say about RUTHLESS is that it's amazing and I love the clash of personalities between the hero and the heroine, and if Jareth from Labyrinth was an ordinary mortal man who happened to live in Georgian England, he would definitely be Viscount Rohan.

4. DUKE OF SIN by Elizabeth Hoyt
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My Blog review: [⭐️]

Genre: Georgian romance


DUKE OF SIN has a similar plot to RUTHLESS, in that the heroine, Bridget, ends up being brought into close proximity with Valentine because he's blackmailing her mother. Unlike Viscount Rohan, Valentine has a very dark and tragic backstory. Even so, he's more than evil to make up for it-- he's cruel, cunning, and utterly devastating, and the no-nonsense heroine can handle all of his rages and narcissistic rants just fine-- it's only when he turns on the charm that she's suddenly out of her league.

This is another hero who really gave off strong Jareth vibes. I loved that the hero was bisexual, and his chemistry with the heroine was totally off the charts. By the end of the book, he's a rogue redeemed, but the journey to get to that point is paved with general naughtiness and bad intentions.

Excellent, in other words.

3. CRIMSON KISS by Trisha Baker
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My Blog review: [⭐️]


Genre: Erotic horror/paranormal

Trisha Baker has truly come up with a narcissistic hero in Simon Baldevar, a vampire who tricks Meghann into marrying him, only to reveal his true sadistic, sociopathic colors. He ends up turning her, cursing her to a life she believes is sinful, and eventually she gets so tired of his abuses that she tries to kill him-- only it doesn't quite work, and Simon's out for her blood.

I love vampire novels where the vampires are actually scary. I've recommended this book to many of my friends who feel the same way-- and all of them enjoyed it. Just keep in mind that there is rape, gore, and violence in this book. Simon is not a nice man and makes no bones about showing it.

Also, I'd suggest avoiding the sequels if you hate Simon. They definitely downplay his actions in this book and he barely grovels at all. Asshole.

2. DREAMS FOR THE DEAD by Heather Crews
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My Blog review: [⭐️]


Genre: Paranormal romance

Disclaimer: Heather is my friend. I like to think that we have a Jeaniene Frost/Ilona Andrews dynamic, in that we're both good buddies who write Things.

I am super obsessed with this book. It's a dark romance about vampires who kidnap humans and keep them as "toys" until they get tired of them and kill them. Dawn ends up getting involved with this creepy vampire family when one of them kidnaps her best friend as his bride. Tristan, one of the brothers of this creep, initially tries to put her off, but ends up kidnapping her once she starts digging.

It's a really dark Stockholm syndrome romance that gets darker with the other books (there's a prequel and a sequel-- the sequel isn't out yet). It's easy to see why Dawn falls for Tristan even though he's such an evil man. He doesn't rape the heroine and he's enigmatic and dangerous in the way that I kind of wished Edward Cullen was when I read Twilight.

Definitely a must for fans of dark vampire fiction, road trips, and captive romances.

1. BURN FOR ME by Ilona Andrews 
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My Blog review: [⭐️]

Genre: Paranormal romance

SPEAKING OF ILONA ANDREWS, look what popped out of the villain tree when I shook it! MY FAVORITE PARANORMAL ROMANCE SERIES. One of these days, this is going to be a TV show. Imagine Machiavellian hierarchies organized around superpowers. It's like The Incredibles meets Game of Thrones and I'm absolutely obsessed with it. I'm not sure how many copies I'm personally responsible for helping to sell but I can't help but feel like it's a lot, since I never shut up about these books.

Rogan starts off the book as a dangerous antihero/possible villain and his interactions with Nevada Baylor are, shall we say, sizzling. This is the book that really got me solidly into Ilona Andrews and once I finished the trilogy there was no going back. Epic fight scenes, tight plotting, magic, forbidden love, strong kick-butt heroines, and enough sexual tension to span at least four seasons of a TV show (please), The Hidden Legacy series is an absolute must-read.

Want more villains? Check out my villainous Goodreads shelf, which I'm constantly updating, filled with all kinds of villainous pairings. It's my favorite trope, and I will always be looking for more.

I've also written a book series about an evil sociopath who becomes obsessed with an innocent girl. Check it out, if you want. I won't be mad if you hate it. I know I suck. ;)

Let me know what your favorite villainous hero is! 🖤

Hold by Claire Kent

This book is currently FREE right now in the Kindle store!

Somebody on my friends list was really pushing me to read this and I'm sorry I can't remember who because I'm normally really hard to please, but I actually did enjoy this book a lot more than I thought I would. I'm a science-fiction girl at heart, having been reared on Star Trek and Star Wars, and space opera is especially near and dear to me. Whenever I find a science-fiction/futuristic romance, I always get really excited, because it's basically the equivalent of all my adolescent self's mental head cannons.

HOLD has a really great premise. It's set on a prison planet, where the prisoners are kept beneath a poisonous sea. Any violation of any sort results in imprisonment, and once you get there, there's no getting off. It's a violent free for all, in the vein of Battle Royale, with resources, food, and safety all completely up in the air unless you're one of the strongest. A sympathetic guard tells Riana at the beginning of her imprisonment that her only chance for survival is to find the strongest man there and offer herself to him in exchange for protection.

Said man is Cain, a lone wolf figure who doesn't play with the social hierarchy of the prison planet, but is respected nonetheless for his superior strength and odd but innate sense of violent justice. He fights another man for Riana and she ends up living in his cell, the only lockable one in the prison. At first, Riana finds him terrifying, but even though he's rough and scary, he isn't cruel and there's a hesitant tenderness in some of his interactions with her that is actually quite endearing.

I don't normally go in for the super-alpha caveman type guys, but if you're going to write them, this is a great example of how to do it. He had street smarts and wasn't an abusive jerk, and his possessiveness could be attractive at times. I will say that the beginning of this book was a lot better than the end, and the plot definitely got derailed by what I considered to be a superfluous amount of sex scenes that were a bit too sloppily written and written too similarly, at that. This book originally gave me R. Lee Smith vibes, and I think if it had been longer and less smutty and more plot-based, it could have given Smith a run for her money. But it ended up being kind of a trashy, throwaway read because of the sex scenes, which were way too cheesy and used some words I really don't like.

If you're looking for a futuristic romance that won't make you gnash your teeth, and enjoy cheesy erotica novels with alpha guys, this will probably be your cup of tea. I did enjoy it but I'm not sure I'd read further in the series than this, even though I did like Hall (the hero of the next book) a lot.

3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Never Trust a Pirate by Anne Stuart

I was thoroughly delighted by NEVER KISS A RAKE; it had all the tropes that draw me to Anne Stuart's romances, and I was very eager to find out what happened in the other Scandal at the House of Russell books, to see the misadventures of the other sisters.

The premise of all three books is simple. Three sisters who are the daughter of a shipping magnate. He is accused of embezzling funds from his partners before dying mysteriously. None of the girls believe him guilty and think he was framed and then murdered to keep his silence. Before he died, Mr. Russell left behind a series of vague notes implicating various parties, and each girl has a did he?/didn't he? moment with the suspect of choice before ultimately finding out that he's innocent-- and hot.

NEVER TRUST A PIRATE has a rocky start because the heroine, Maddy, is immature and annoying. Bryony, from the first book, is much more likable because of her relatable insecurities (even if she did play the "oh god, I'm soooo ugly card" a lot) and her no-nonsense demeanor. Maddy is a brat.

The hero saves Maddy from being attacked at a dock by some sailors and then takes a kiss as his reward. Maddy is therefore shocked when she finds out that the man whose home she's infiltrated under the pretense of being a maid is the same man. Here, the book starts to feel a lot like a carbon copy of the first book in the series. There's a villain who's planning to kill the heroine; there's a jealous wife/fiancee OW who doesn't take kindly to how the hero looks at the heroine; the heroine is a housekeeper who snoops around where she doesn't belong providing the basis for some sexy scenes; and oh yes, the hero takes forEVER to realize he's in love. Spoiler: it takes murder.

Luckily, I bought all these books for 99-cents each. I would only recommend the first one but if you're curious about the rest, they are free if you have Kindle Unlimited. Otherwise, don't bother.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

This was a buddy read with Sage. We were actually reading a book about vampires before this one, but since we both hated it, we decided life was too short to stick with a bad book and ended up reading STILLHOUSE LAKE instead. Whoa. What can I say about this book that hasn't been said by others already? It's a book that manages to be unique in a genre that's oversaturated by various tropes. Imagine if the love of your life turned out to be a very talented, very sadistic serial killer and you only found out by accident. That's what happens to Gina Royal when she's coming home with the kids one day to find the entire road to their house blocked off and surrounded by cops. A drunk driver crashed into their garage, revealing her husband's hidden murder haven.

Years later, Gina-- now Gwen-- is still scarred by that horrific revelation. Her husband's criminal trial has put her through hell and back, and even though he's now safely locked up, he still sends her mail to remind her that he hasn't forgotten. Neither have her enemies, who remain convinced that she was her husband's willing little helper. They stalk and harass her online, demanding blood and justice, forcing Gwen to jump from town to town with her kids to protect her from the online mobs.

Now, in a small, Southern lakeside town, it seems like Gwen may finally have found a safe haven. Nobody knows who she is, the neighbors mind their own business, and her kids are slowly starting to make friends. All of that goes up in smoke, though, when a body shows up in that pretty lake, killed in the exact same way that her husband used to murder his victims. And just like that, Gwen is thrown back under that white-hot spotlight, throwing herself and her kids in mortal peril.

I loved this book a lot. Rachel Caine is an author I'm familiar with because I loved her Weather Wardens series; it was one of the more original takes on the paranormal genre, back in the day. I was less fond of her vampire series (an understatement), but we all have our misses, and overall I really admired her ability to write. She seems to have really hit her stride with crime fiction. The pacing of this book was excellent and she really gives you a solid character to empathize with in Gwen. Poor Gwen. A page didn't go by when I ached for her. There are no easy answers in STILLHOUSE LAKE, and even though Gwen wasn't at fault for what her husband did, you, like her, are constantly shocked at what she was forced to do to survive, and the guilt that she must feel at being accidentally complicit. She was essentially the beard for her husband's crimes; the accessory to make him seem normal.

STILLHOUSE LAKE deals with a lot of tough concepts, like the charm and manipulation that make psychopaths so successful, the dangers of vigilante mob justice online, and guilt and survivalism and what the extremes of those look like. It's a fast-paced mystery novel that handles its subject with care, and it's got a kick-butt playlist in the back, too. (She did that with Weather Warden, as well, which introduced me to one of my favorite 80s songs, "Red Rain.") If you enjoy mystery/crime fiction, you'll really enjoy this book, especially if you like strong heroines who roll with the punches.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, November 25, 2019

Breathless by Anne Stuart

There is nothing I love more than a good villain-gets-the-girl romance. It's probably one of my favorite romance tropes of all time, apart from hot Gothic vampire romances. I even have a shelf devoted to it on Goodreads, that's how much I love it. Anne Stuart has become one of my favorite romance authors over the years because she understands the need for villainous, rakish heroes, and her formula usually works (although not always).

I got into the House of Rohan series a few years ago and it was the book that really kicked off my obsession with Anne Stuart. RUTHLESS is unquestionably my favorite; it's like an ode to everyone who found Jareth from Labyrinth attractive. I liked the sequel, RECKLESS, all right, but it wasn't as good as its predecessor. It was more of the typical good girl/bad boy romance, only set in Regency times, and while enjoyable, it was one of the more forgettable romances I have read.

BREATHLESS was the book in this series that I had been eagerly anticipating the most because the hero in this book, Lucien de Malheur, was a real piece of work. Lucien hates the Rohans with a passion because he blames them for the ruination and death of his sister. And what better way to exact revenge than for a sister for a sister? He pays a man to ruin Miranda, the daughter of Adrian from the previous book, and then when that doesn't work, he pretends to be her friend so he can forcibly abduct and elope with her.

And then, he plans something even worse.

Lucien is obviously a bad man. He has a sad backstory but that doesn't excuse what he did. He definitely fits under the Byronic "Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know" umbrella. I liked him in the beginning but I think the author tried to soften him too much to excuse his actions towards Miranda, and even though I know others may disagree, I think the story would have worked better if she hadn't done that. This should have been a bodice-ripper, and the romance should have been less sweet and more corrupt, since Lucien really didn't have to grovel all that much and Miranda basically abandoned her self-respect to end up with Lucien anyway. What kind of marriage is that? Yikes.

I also wasn't keen on the secondary romance. I thought it was stupid and read as filler to pump up the page count. Jacob and Jane were boring AF and I didn't really care to read about them much at all. The scenes between Lucien and Miranda were much more interesting, even if I wanted to roll my eyes sometimes at the melodrama of it all. What can I say? I'm a sucker for hot sex scenes, and I'm so desperate for villainous heroes that sometimes, even melodramatic, Byronic whiny-boys will do.

Definitely a much better book than the second, but nowhere near as good as the first. I think my curiosity with this series might be satisfied, as the debauchery and degradation seem to be waning with each next installment. If you enjoy tortured, villainous heroes, you'll probably like this.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Never Kiss a Rake by Anne Stuart

Anne Stuart is a real hit or miss author for me. She has a typical formula and sometimes employs it to great effect-- I like her heroes best when they are dark and dangerous and charming-- but sometimes she dials the formula in and the books end up falling flat because her characters feel like copies of other, better ones. NEVER KISS A RAKE is Anne Stuart doing what Anne Stuart does best, with a romance between a no-nonsense heroine and an unapologetic rake that's rooted in treachery, murder, and lies.

Bryony is the eldest daughter of the Russells, a shipping magnate who died mysteriously after embezzling from his firm and leaving all of his partners destitute-- except for one. The wealthy Irish Earl, Adrian Kilmartyn. Bryony is certain that her father was not the guilty party and figures that the Earl probably murdered and framed her father, so she disguises herself as a housekeeper and enters his household under an assumed name, determined to figure out what really happened to her father and his business, and whether Adrian was actually responsible.

She didn't plan for the fact that Adrian is attractive and charming as a young god. He and his wife are both the most beautiful people that Bryony has ever seen. But their marriage is abusive and toxic, and Cecily cheats on her husband on the reg, keeping him loyal by blackmailing him with a secret that would have the power to ruin him if it ever got out. Cecily doesn't like Bryony and is determined to do whatever it takes to get her back on the house and out of the street, and she isn't the only one. Somebody else wants Bryony gone, and possibly dead, too. Is it Adrian?

So obviously I loved this. Anne Stuart's gamma heroes are the best, and for some reason it's always her stories where the heroes might be murderers that are the best ones. The sexual tension between the h and the H were really well done, leading to some truly steamy scenes that are among her best. I also loved the banter between the two-- the pairing of no-nonsense bluestocking and  shameless rake reminded me quite fondly of RUTHLESS, which is my favorite Anne Stuart book. Adrian is much nicer than Rohan but the dynamic and personalities were a little similar, and I loved it. The book gets off to a bit of a rocky start but everything else is really well done. Can't wait to read the rest of this trilogy and find out about the other two Russell sisters!

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Isle of Night by Veronica Wolff

DNF @ 18%

I was worried when I was skimming through my friends' reviews of this book and noticed that practically all of them hated it. The summary sounded totally awesome, kind of like a blend between The Hunger Games and Vampire Academy, which are two of my favorite YA book series, and one of the few that I've actually bothered to reread. I couldn't see how people didn't like something so totally awesome in premise... until I picked up the book for myself and saw how totally fail it was in execution.

This was a buddy read with my GR buddy Sage, who has participated in several other buddy reads with me before. The previous three we did were all really fun and I was hoping this one would be as well, but I guess this is proof that even two such amazing beings as us still can't have a 100% success rate.

In ISLE OF NIGHT, Annelise escapes her abusive family by registering herself for early admission to college because she is a certified genius, which she will remind you of repeatedly. Unfortunately, she cannot enter college because-- and this is not a joke-- she didn't pass a swim test. No swim test, no college-- I guess because they have to ensure that you can float about sea level. Get it? SEA LEVEL? Yuck, yuck...

Anyway, Annelise storms out of college and finds a hot Scottish Edward Cullen ripoff hanging out around her car who I am going to call Gerard Cullen. Gerard Cullen spirits her away to this special school that he tells her will be perfect for someone of her ~genius~ and she agrees to go off with this perfect stranger because is hot, even when it turns out the somewhere else he's taking her is a jet plane going off to some mysterious island and the only other passengers are attractive but mean girls.

Annnnnnd... that was about where I stopped reading. There was nothing but insta-lust, stupidity, girl on girl hate, and a beautiful heroine with big eyes and full lips and long blonde hair who literally lists out these qualities and says, "Oh my God, I'm so ugly, big eyes make me look like a bug and blonde hair makes me stand out," and-- once again, let me be emphatic-- this is actually what happens.

I was hoping this series would be good because the whole series is on Kindle Unlimited and for some reason I bought the first book a while ago, although I can't remember doing so. I want to kick past-Nenia in the pants for wasting her money, because it was so bad that if this had been a recent purchase, I would have returned it to the Kindle store for a refund. Just terrible. What a shame.

1 out of 5 stars

A Story About Cancer With a Happy Ending by India Desjardins

The story behind this book is that the author was chatting with a young girl who had cancer and was really upset because she wanted to read books with cancer rep, but all the ones she could find in her age bracket had sad endings (I'm looking at you, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS). Cognizant of the fact that there was a real desire for stories that had cancer rep that also gave their readers hope, India Desjardins set out to write a book about a girl who had cancer, whose story ended, yes, happily.

I was surprised that the heroine in this book is a teenager because it feels very young, more like a children's book than a graphic novel. I think it's better suited for preteens and older children than actual teens. That said, it definitely deals very frankly with cancer, how physically and emotionally taxing it is, the guilt, the despair, the wanting everything to be normal while also knowing that it isn't, and the toll it takes on the family of someone who is sick, and how seeing all that makes the sick person feel, and just the all-encompassing suck of it all.

The heroine talks about trying to remain positive and learning to appreciate the small things, and about being in love for the first time and also seeing her parents' vulnerability in a new and touching way, and understanding how people sometimes create roles for themselves to cope in grief. Even though the language is very simple, this book tackles some very mature topics in an easy-to-read way (which is why I think it might be a better read for preteens, who will appreciate not being talked down to). And yes, the author definitely delivers on her promise-- this book has a happy ending.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!  

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, November 22, 2019

Toil & Trouble by Augusten Burroughs

The other day at work, I was listening to music on YouTube with "autoplay" on, as one does, and because I have excellent taste in music, "Inexplicable" by The Correspondents came on. I heard the lyrics "When I was four / I raised my finger to a moving car / It crashed / So I assumed I had a super power" and I thought, my gods, this man has surely read TOIL & TROUBLE and finds it as difficult a pill to swallow as I did.

It's been a while since I've read an Augusten Burroughs book. Years, in fact. Originally, I gave this book a 4-star rating, but that's mostly because the second half of this book is much better than the first half, and I was able to forget my inordinate boredom with Augusten Burroughs' seemingly earnest belief that yes, he is in fact a real witch who makes strange things happen.

I am probably the least religious/spiritual/magical thinking individual there is. So with parts of this book there was definitely a "help! I'm trapped on a bus next to a guy who thinks he's a witch!" vibe. I think I've only felt so cornered when this self-professed Wiccan told me that she was an indigo child with mood ring eyes who could see auras, and the one time I ever went to a Unitarian church where we all "hugged the sun" before hugging each other, and I swear to you, never have I fled a place of religious worship so fast. Hugging perfect strangers after assuming an unflattering pseudo yoga pose-- my actual worst nightmares. I'll take the blood and body of Christ, thanks.

Anyway, Burroughs thinks he's a witch, and this collection of essays is intended to showcase his intuitions and the strange coincidences in his life that have made him (maybe?) believe this. I can't remember this coming up in any of the previous books of his I read-- SCISSORS, and the one about alcoholism-- so I'm not sure if he just felt too uncomfortable to bring it up before and now gives zero shits, or if this is something that he made up to delight and captivate (and, yes, sell books to) his audience. I found parts of this book very amusing-- my favorite part was probably his "I'm vegan but also eat bucket loads of non-vegan candy nightly" essay and also the essay about the truly one of a kind essay about the man known as Jeffrey, who is like if Joan Collins was a self-hating gay man.

Overall, I think TOIL & TROUBLE accomplished what it set out to do, which is to tell a series of interesting (if somewhat exasperating and unbelievable) anecdotes about a life lived with some pretty unusual and attention-catching coincidences that ended up playing huge roles in his life. Is he a witch? Well, I don't think so. But hey, if it makes him happy and it does no harm, then why not? As long as people aren't forcing their doctrines on me or using it to control or influence my life in any way, I'm perfectly happy for them to believe what they like. Whatever gives you comfort and brings you joy, yeah? And Augusten seems thoroughly delighted with himself, so good for him, I guess.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!  

3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Better Liar by Tanen Jones

I would not put Tanen Jones on par with Gillian Flynn, but I will admit that there is definite appeal there for that audience if the reader is inclined to be forgiving. THE BETTER LIAR is a debut novel, and with comparisons to authors such as Megan Abbott and Gillian Flynn in the blurb, seems to be setting itself to some pretty high standards, which can sometimes lead to disappointment. I personally thought the story was more reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith, but I get why they went with Flynn-- Flynn sells more copies than Highsmith these days, and that's what publishers want. Warm bodies, reading their twisted mysteries about cold ones.

THE BETTER LIAR is about a woman named Leslie who came from a troubled and dysfunctional family. She has just found out that her young sister, Robin, is dead, but cannot claim her inheritance without her sister there beside her to claim it in tandem. Luckily, she meets and ends up becoming friendly with a woman named Mary who could be a deadringer for her sister-- a younger, healthier, less crazy version of her sister, that is.

The two women work together to hammer out the scam, and Mary comes home with Leslie to meet her perfect husband and perfect child, but as Mary becomes more involved with the life that Robin left behind, Leslie soon realizes that her little plan might not have been as clever as she thought. Especially when old, dark secrets long buried rise back up to the light.

I can't say much more about the book than that without MAJOR SPOILERS but there are definitely Highsmith vibes-- vibes from multiple books of hers, not just a single one, including, perhaps THE PRICE OF SALT. Honestly, this is probably the type of book where you're better off going in cold. The suspense was well done and I thought the writing was great. The book just fell apart a little bit in the last act, with an ending that I frankly found very confusing and abrupt. There was one really good twist but I personally didn't feel like the author did as much with it as she could.

If you're a fan of mysteries featuring dysfunctional heroines and family secrets, THE BETTER LIAR is a great book. Just don't go into it expecting the next Gillian Flynn. It's a well-crafted mystery and would probably make for a great movie or TV show, but the plotting is not quite on that level yet.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!  

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Reckless by Anne Stuart

RUTHLESS is probably my favorite book Anne Stuart has ever written with the blithely rakish main character who is so cruel that he teeters into villainous territory. When the sequel, RECKLESS, went on sale, I had to have it. RECKLESS is about the son of the couple from the first book, Adrian Rohan, a playboy who ends up falling for a bluestocking who has had a crush on him for years.

The couple meet at a debauched party similar to the ones that the hero was so fond of in RUTHLESS. Charlotte only wanted to watch out of curiosity, since she considers herself a spinster on the shelf, but ends up participating far more than she ever imagined when Adrian happens upon her in the gardens and spirits her away to his rooms. They have great chemistry (surprise) and the affair persists, growing more serious against a backdrop of danger.

I have mixed feelings about RECKLESS. Ultimately it was fine. There were some fantastic erotic scenes in here; others, less so. The heroine was cool because she's 6' and wears glasses, and as a tall, bespectacled gal myself, it's nice to see that representation. Adrian could be hot but he was also smarmy and thick-headed at times, which made him less charming than the hero in the first book, who was basically a human version of Jareth, from Labyrinth. Hnnng.

I didn't really think the "villainous" subplot added a lot to the book, but Lisa Kleypas likes to do the same things in her books-- half-cocked murder attempts that go absolutely nowhere. The villain was painfully obvious since he announced his intentions from the beginning, which killed any hope of suspense. I also didn't like the secondary romance between Simon and Lina. Lina was a cool heroine with a sad backstory, but Simon was a sleazy prat and I didn't buy his variety of "charm" at all.

I'm definitely interested in continuing the series because I hear the hero in BREATHLESS is a really cruel and evil hero, and as I said before, those are my absolute faves. This book in the series, I could take or leave. I don't regret getting it for $1.99 but I wouldn't have wanted to have paid more than that.

3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Blood & Ice by Ariana Nash

DNF @ 21%

I hate to give this a low rating because I loved SILK & STEEL and IRON & FIRE, and BLOOD & ICE was one of my hotly anticipated reads for October. I got it the week it came out with the expectation that it would bring my new favorite dark fantasy series to an epic close. Silk & Steel is an epic fantasy romance between an elf and a dragon. Their people are at war, and their hate-hate relationship gradually spins into something deep and meaningful against a tapestry of war, abuse, and violence.

Ariana Nash/Pippa DaCosta writes beautifully and I've liked almost everything of hers that she's written. Style-wise, she's a lot like Ilona Andrews, in that she strikes the perfect balance between smart snappy prose and quick readability, which is not easy to do.

I'm not sure what exactly went wrong in BLOOD & ICE, and I checked the other reviews to see if anyone else shared my feelings, but nobody did. Maybe it's just me, or maybe the book came at a bad time, but I found myself being so bored while reading this. The writing quality seemed to have gone down a bit and the pacing was so sluggish. I was invested Lysander and Eroan's future from the beginning, but this book made me not care what happened to either of them. It was that dull.

I'm pretty disappointed by the way this series ended. It was a fizzle when I wanted a bang. Maybe the pacing picks up towards the end, and it'll turn into the bang I wanted (in more ways than one), but I didn't want to read on to find out. Life is too short to read the books you don't enjoy. I am psyched for Akiem's book, though. He's a heartless bastard of a dragon and I look forward to getting to know his dark heart.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sinister Hunger by Katze Snow

This is fine. If you know me, you know I'm a huge fan of vampire stories. Reading vampire stories, writing vampire stories-- I love it all. I don't care if the pairings are M/F, F/F, M/M, or a little bit of everything, if the story is dark enough and there's lots of biting and smut, I am a happy camper, regardless of who's doing what.

SINISTER HUNGER seemed especially promising with its very dark premise. Basically, humans live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where the vampires have taken over and fight as Dusk Hunters (read: Slayers) to fight the nearby vampires at bay. After a massacre, the head Dusk Hunter, Vincent, sells himself to the vampire mayor, Maddox, as a blood whore to ensure the safety of his children after his wife dies in the blood shed. Yikes.

I saw another review saying that these characters don't really seem to identify as gay, and I would agree. Both of them have been with women and Vincent adamantly says he isn't gay. It isn't "gay for you" so much as "gay for revenge," which works for the storyline but maybe isn't the most sensitive re: sexuality. I know a lot of my friends on here say that the GFY trope contributes to bisexual erasure, but I'm not sure whether discovering one's latent bisexuality after sexually humiliating someone for revenge counts?

SINISTER HUNGER is pretty violent and gory. There's some very intense and descriptive scenes of beating and torture. An (I think) underage boy is molested and then raped (rape is off-screen, iirc) by one of the "heroes" no less. It's not a very sunshine or rainbows type of book, and reminded me of a slightly less hardcore version of CALL THE CORONER, another dark M/M story involving "gay for revenge," only both of those characters actually end up admitting their bisexuality.

I want to give SINISTER HUNGER a higher rating but it had some major weak points. The fight scene in the beginning went on for way too long. I know it's supposed to show how much Vincent loved his family and how much he's sacrificing, but considering how short this book is, it goes on for much too long. I felt like Vincent started becoming attracted to Maddox way too soon, and that Maddox's character was inconsistent. He seems so "nice" in the earlier chapter, and then suddenly he's molesting young boys and threatening people with humiliation and rape-- and those scenes were weird, too, because they seemed more pervy and less, "I'm a bad-ass who's going to fuck you up." I think that's why CALL THE CORONER worked where this book did not-- in CTC, both leads are fucked up and that darkness is what binds them, whereas here it's much weirder and less convincing.

It's a dark erotic vampire story with blood-drinking and humiliation, but wasn't really my cup of tea. Parts of the book were done really well and four-star worthy, but the pacing and development of the relationship between the two leads didn't really work all that well, in my opinion.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Blood Slave by Travis Luedke

DNF @ 28%

I was looking forward to reading this book but the execution left me wanting. It's about a bisexual Colombian escort who ends up running afoul of a vampire client one day, who ends up dragging Esperanza back to her Master, who ends up taking her on as a blood slave in order to protect her from being killed. Hot, right? Yeah, I was hoping so, too. Vampires are a huge weakness of mine.

My problem with this book is that it seems to be more porn than plot and I didn't think the sex scenes were that sexy. In fact, the F/F scene some of the reviews were complaining about was actually much hotter (to me) than the M/F scene that involves some cervix-slamming action that reduces her cervix to "sponge." Ummmm, no.

Originally I kind of liked the casual narration style but it devolves as the book goes on and becomes quite stupid. The Spanish also wasn't super great. The author seemed to have tried, but he didn't use accent marks, so when he meant to say araña, he actually uses "arana." The whole book felt kind of sloppy like that.

Wish I was able to give this book a higher rating, but it just isn't what I'm looking for in vampire fiction. Others may enjoy it, but this is not my thing at all.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Call the Coroner by Avril Ashton

CALL THE CORONER is a really weird book because the first 50% is torture porn and the second 50% is angsty romance. It's the type of book that could have been a dismally insensitive fail, but ended up working pretty well. I picked this book up on impulse because it was available through Kindle Unlimited and I've been on a binge of really dark reads lately, since those are what I enjoy.

Daniel and Stavros are both crime lords with terrible reputations. Stavros is the man who gave Daniel his scars and killed his wife, so Daniel decides that he's going to get revenge. He kills all Stavros's men and then takes him prisoner, torturing him slowly. But Stavros gets off on the whole thing and they end up becoming attracted to each other and when a rival cartel lord frees Stavros to level the playing field, Stavros decides it's only fair to pay Daniel back.

All the trigger warnings for this book are pretty accurate. Some books try to get cute with their warnings and use them to sell books. This one is actually helpful. I felt like I was prepared for what I was in for pretty well so nothing came as an unpleasant shock. The content was graphic but not to the point of being distasteful, even if it was sometimes hard to read some of the more descriptive passages of torture. I liked how fucked up the relationship was between the two characters and I was impressed about how the author made it work, and how they forged tenderness out of cruelty.

Only downside to this book is that the author had some weird writing tics. In the beginning of the book, everyone was winking all the time. In the second half of the book, the author fell in love with the phrase "bottomed out" and started using that all the time. There's also weird telegraphic syntax patterns where the author has passages where they just have one or two word sentences and it gets a little distracting at times because while sometimes it works, other times it breaks up the flow.

Anyone who likes really dark love stories will like CALL THE CORONER. I see that this is part of a series of cartel books and I'm actually really excited because practically the only cartel books I've enjoyed were books one and three in Karina Halle's Dirty Angels series. This one has joined the ranks.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Reign of Ruin by Jennifer Bene

I've been really neglecting my Kindle Unlimited subscription and am trying to get back into it by using that sweet, sweet library to check out some cool dark reads. I've been in a dark mood as the sun sets sooner and the weather gets colder, and all I really want to do is curl up with some dark AF books and be shocked.

REIGN OF RUIN seemed like it could be the perfect book. It's kind of like if you took Handmaid's Tale and imbued it with graphic rape and degradation scenes. They are so OTT that I had trouble reading some of them and needed to skim, and this is coming from someone who pretty regularly reads and writes bodice-ripper style books filled with rape scenes. But these are pretty brutal and I 10/10 do not recommend this book to anyone who has trouble stomaching books that involve rape or abuse, because REIGN OF RUIN has both and they are hardcore.

It's difficult to explain the plot because part of what makes this book so unique is a big fat spoiler. I will say that it has supernatural elements, and that the "epilogue" that was actually the short story that ended up serving up the inspiration for the expanded novella format of this book raised more questions than it answered, and left me feeling even more confused than I did before. I don't really understand how the world went to shit and I don't really feel like the book answered that in a satisfactory way. I was also uncertain of this was meant to be horror or erotica or both? I'm sure it's somebody's kink but I'm not really into sadism or medical stuff, so it definitely wasn't mine.

If you like dark and degrading works of horror erotica, you may enjoy this. I did not.

2 out of 5 stars

Dark Reign by Rachel Jonas

I want to kick this book for sucking because it could have been really good. A reverse harem vampire romance in a world where humans are subservient to vampires and the heroine is an assassin trying to take down some ultra-sexy vampire lords sounded amazing. I'm a little confused by the world-building but vampires appear to be the result of a genetic mutation and have basically taken all the power for themselves, using humans for food and calling them "sows," and calling the pretty ones they keep as their toys "Dolls." It sounded really dark and I was all here for it.

I was not a fan of the writing in this book. It seemed sloppy and unpolished. The world-building also wasn't very good. I feel like this came off more as a vampiric version of THE SELECTION, which I hated. It was shallow and superficial, trying to take on much darker and tougher topics than it was really equipped to handle. The result was kind of tone-deaf, as it became all about insta-love and smutting about with the princes, even though there wasn't that much action and all the POVs sounded the same.

If you know me, you know I love vampire fiction-- the darker, the better. I was really hoping that these vampires would come with bite. Sadly, their fangs were about as threatening as wax teeth. Somebody needs to present me with the vampire romance I deserve, because I've been super unimpressed with everything I've been reading lately, bar my friend's work and VAMPIRE ACADEMY. Sigh.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, November 10, 2019

How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

HOW WE FIGHT FOR OUR LIVES is such a great memoir. It's everything a "good" memoir should be-- sensual, moving, thoughtful, provoking, erotic, intense, and unique-- but it also opens up many meaningful discussions and dialogues about what it means to be black, what it means to be gay, what it means to be both, and how it feels to be part of a group that is singled out, even from within members of each disparate community (hence the ever-important need for intersectionality in political movements).

Saeed is a really great memoirist. His writing is gorgeous and flows. This is one of the first memoirs I've read in a while that almost feels like fiction, in that the author is able to distance himself from, well, himself, and write personally and honestly about his experiences without making you feel like he's trying to apologize for being the way he is or offer some sort of narrative direction. It makes the memoir feel really personal, and at the same time, you also feel like you're watching a story unfold.

I don't really have any complaints about this book. Some people have said that they did not like Saeed's choices (I can kind of guess which ones), but experience makes us who we are. I'm pretty hard to shock at this point, and felt like this memoir was very tame compared to others I have read. I liked how he melded his story with the concerns many people have with regard to racism and discrimination, and the parts about his mother were heart-wrenching.

Definitely a must-read for those looking for great new books by black and/or LGBT+ authors.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!  

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Queen of Blood by Jill Myles

I haven't had a whole lot of time for reading lately between personal stuff and writing my own books, but I'm trying to play the catch-up game with ARCs and actually utilize the damn Kindle Unlimited service that I'm paying $9.99/mo for, and what better way than to reacquaint myself with KU than by picking up some sexy vampire romances about arranged marriage?

QUEEN OF BLOOD is a vastly underrated work that has some similar premises to other books I've read, but it does them much better. In this book, lords from Athon are cursed to be vampires by the gods (they got screwed over by one asshole king), kind of like the whole Greek House of Atreus where everyone is doomed. Their curse, obviously, is that they can only come out at night and need blood to survive. They have to be slutty about it too because part of the curse is that they can't be with any one person too long or their blood starts to taste terrible. The only cure is a blessed woman from the gods called an Eterna.

Seri is from Vidari, an oppressed and rural colony of Athon where everyone works the land to survive and most of them starve anyway. Seri's disabled sister and ailing father are dependent on her to make a living, and Seri ends up selling her dignity to play at an Athon noblewoman's handmaiden, who is angling to capture the prince's attention by eroticizing her female servant and reaping the scandal vicariously. Only, it works too well if you know what I mean.

Prince Graeme and Seri end up getting married because she is The Chosen One, which causes all kinds of problems because Seri hates Athonites and her betrothed, Rilen, is part of a movement to overthrow them. He's actually happy about the marriage though, because he sees it as a golden opportunity for her to plant a knife in the vampire prince's back and pimps her out with pleasure. Too bad that this is a romance novel and neither Seri nor Graeme know what kind of angst awaits them.

So the romance element of this was really well done. There's a couple tropes I'm always a sucker for and lord/servant romances, arranged marriage romances, and vampire romances are some of them. All three of those things were done in this book, along with a generous serving of court intrigue and sexy neck biting. I was delighted and read through this in a single evening. The only thing I'm actually sore about is that the author didn't make this a series and she shot herself in the foot by killing off Velair, if you ask me, because I would happily read a dark sequel about a sadistic and cruel vampire lord who ends up falling for his human toy.

If you enjoy vampire romances or fantasy romances, I think you will enjoy QUEEN OF BLOOD.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Thousand Steps by Helen Brain

THE THOUSAND STEPS is an odd book and not necessarily one I would have picked out for myself, but I jumped at the chance to get an ARC of the new reprint because the idea of a post-apocalyptic novel set in South Africa was intriguing.

Ebba lives in an underground commune ruled over by a High Priest. They're forced to work all the time and "cull" the people who can't work or don't meet their physical standards. Ebba is about to get culled herself when the High Priest glimpses the mysterious necklace she's wearing around her neck. Suddenly, she's whisked away and presented with a lawyer, who tells her that she's actually an heiress and totes free to go, and oh, by the way, here are the keys to your plantation where you own acres of farms and servants.

Obviously, the lies the High Priest was feeding her people about the overworld being uninhabitable were just that, lies. She is pretty quick to forgive him this, though, and develops a crush on his smarmy son, Hal, who wants to marry her. Ebba's servants tell her she should avoid the whole family, but Ebba does what Ebba wants.

And what Ebba most dearly wants in this book is to be stupid.

It's weird, because the writing style of this book feels like it's for younger teens who aren't going to question subpar world-building and bad character choices. In particular, I found this author to be reminiscent of Margaret Peterson Haddix's work. But the topics-- apartheid, eugenics, cults-- are pretty mature and not really suitable for really young kids, in my opinion. I was kind of shocked about how brutal some scenes were, especially the culling in the beginning, when Ebba sees her friends die.

This isn't a bad book and I was able to finish and get some enjoyment out of it, but it's a bit sillier than I like and the cliffhanger "read more" ending didn't really impress me. After watching Ebba make so many stupid mistakes over the course of the novel, I would have liked some closure.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!  

3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Angst and Darkness: Poems for Your Goth Teenage Self by Heather Crews

If Heather Crews wasn't my friend, I would probably hate her, because nobody deserves to have that much talent all to themselves. The woman can paint, draw, and write poetry, and I want to personally march to the doors of my fellow readers of dark fiction and kick them in the pants for not loving her work as much as I do. Considering that the author wrote these when she was a teenager, they are very impressive and convey a depth of emotion that is atypical for what you might expect to see in your average precocious teenager's body of existant work (Exhibit A: my own horrendous teen poetry).

Some of these definitely give themselves away, but there were a couple I really liked a lot like the poem called "F*** You" and the first "Untitled" poem that appears in the collection. I think those two were probably my favorites just because the themes of being used and having your heart broken spoke really strongly to me and I thought they were done well.

will you remember the games you played, and won, / or just the feel of her body beneath your fingertips? (65%)

Yikes. I got chills.

If you're into poetry, you could do much worse than picking up this small but diverse collection of angsty and gothy poems. It's infinitely better than what you see in Rupi Kaur's pseudo-meditative book of dreck, for sure.

3 out of 5 stars

Savage Enchantment by Parris Afton Bonds

DNF @ 32%

I've recently started rating some of my DNF reads 2 star because I've decided life is too short to read something boring or dull, and if I think the book probably wasn't beyond salvation, I'll give it the 2 star treatment as opposed to the "omg it was so awful I can't even" 1 star version of DNF.

Parris Afton Bonds is a difficult author because when she's on her game, I love her work. LAVENDER BLUE is one of my favorite bodice-rippers and has one of the hottest heroes ever. Like, seriously, some parts I was fanning myself and thinking, "Omg, I am deceased." On the other hand, she has works like this and DUST DEVIL where I'm just like, okay but where is this all going? In true bodice-ripper fashion, they have shocking and horrific scenes of violence and rape, but without the storyline to back it, what's the point? It just becomes mindless shock value for the sake of it.

SAVAGE ENCHANTMENT drew me because of the vintage cover of the original and the summary that promised "perverse lusts." The Kindle version of this book has taken "Savage" out of the title (I think because it was a double entendre to refer to the dark-skinned Spanish hero) and also "perverse lusts" because it turns out that was referring to someone who was homosexual, oops. Kathleen flees her gay dad who is having sex with the man he wants to marry her off to, so the two of them can split her dowry and maybe confine Kathleen to the same asylum they put her mother in (because when women cheat, it's not allowed). Kathleen flees to make her fortune and ends up in a seedy motel where she's mistaken for a prostitute and raped by the very man who COINCIDENTALLY ENOUGH turns out to be the guy who's hired her as a teacher.

The whole time I was reading this, I kept thinking that it was basically like the "diet" version of Rosemary Rogers's SWEET SAVAGE LOVE. If you're going to read one Western bodice-ripper and be offended by something, that's the one that will horrify and entertain you by turns. This one, with its odd and stilted writing, just wasn't very fun to read.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

By Any Means Necessary by Candice Montgomery

BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY is a breezy, college-age YA about a Afro-Latino boy named Torrey. It explores his struggle to keep his apiary (bee farm) from being foreclosed on, the negative aspects of gentrification, and also his coming of age romance with the bisexual love interest, Gabriel, a hot Portuguese guy who was the first boy Torrey ever kissed.

There were some things I really liked about BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. I think it has an authentic YA voice. The romance was great. It does an excellent job focusing on some of the elements that make California such a unique and diverse place to live, while also showing how racially-charged class disparities can be harmful to cities and the people who live and work in them, especially people of color. I loved all of that.

The downside was that this book took me a long time to get into, and sometimes I almost felt like it was trying too hard to get me to think that the main character was cool. Maybe I'm just too old to appreciate some of the teen ridiculousness, but at times it felt like Torrey's "humor" was too forced and over the top, which often had me rolling my eyes.

There isn't really a "solid" plot. This is largely a character-driven story and while it works here, that isn't really my favorite method of story-telling, which did impact how much I liked this book. If you're looking for diverse YA with a great romance and some real world issues, though, I think you would do well to pick up BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY, especially if you don't mind a meandering and character-driven storyline.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!  

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

I read these books ten years ago when I was going through the same paranormal frenzy that everyone else was, characterized by those "girl in a Gothic dress" covers that were so popular in the early 2010s. Most of them were crushing disappointments, but the Vampire Academy series blew my expectations out of the water and basically ended up being the cracktastic fun-fest I expected.

The best way to describe it is to say that it's like you took Harry Potter and infused it with high school scandal and backstabbing, with all of the doomed romance and girl-on-girl Machiavellian plotting of a K-drama. It reminded me a lot of Peach Girl, too, in that the heroine is sexualized by her peers because of the way she looks and spends the whole book struggling to save her friends and prove her character, despite everyone constantly judging her.

Rose is a damphir, which means she's half-Moroi (good vampire) and half-damphir (hybrid). Moroi are vampires that can do elemental magic and they're very good looking, but they're physically frail. Damphir are faster and stronger, but they're also infertile, so in exchange for protection and sometimes providing blood, Moroi hire Damphir to be their bodyguards, and Damphir use Moroi to keep the bloodline alive. It's very symbiotic. The main thing that Damphir protect their charges against are Strigoi, which are bad vampires who like to kill.

Rose has a bond with Lissa, her Moroi friend, which allows her to sense when she's in danger, as well as read her thoughts. It was one of those moments that led Rose to spirit Lissa away from their academy, and neither of them are very happy when they're both brought back in disgrace. Rather than be expelled, Rose is given extra lessons to keep her in check with the man who brought her back in, a very hot guy named Dimitri, who is a Damphir just like her, and the acting guardian of her friend.

It seems like it should be a normal year, but someone is trying to chase Lissa away from the school, putting dead animals in her bed and making her life miserable. Through their connection, Rose sees her friend losing control, succumbing to depression and acting out in increasingly violent and irrational ways, including using her compulsion spells to use things against their will and hanging out with the resident bad boy, Christian, whose parents were both evil Strigoi. To make matters worse, her feelings for Dimitri are getting stronger and making it hard to focus a mind that is becoming increasingly not her own, as Lissa's thoughts begin to invade hers more and more.

And then the book reaches its climax, and everything explodes in fire and blood.

This is one of the few books I've reread that completely lived up to my memories of it, and the more I read, the more of it came back to me. I loved every moment of it, even the parts that normally would have made me turn up my nose in disgust if they had occurred in another book. Rose is such a strong character and I loved her bond with Lissa. Normally I only like the main love interest, but I liked Dimitri as much as I liked Christian. The boarding school element is done so well and provides an excellent element of isolation and danger, and the magic gave it a fun Harry Potter vibe, only less hocus pocus vibes and more Wicca.

The only taint about this book for me is the movie, which sucks. I don't know what the people who made that movie were thinking but it was a fail. I think the only bigger disappointment was the spectacular flop, Boys Over Friends, AKA what happens with Americans try to take a popular manga/K-Drama idea and localize it for an American audience but end up ruining everything. People seriously need to figure out how to adapt YA books to movies without being fails, and I think reading the books might help, because I'm pretty sure a lot of those people probably just Cliffnotes it.

It shows.

If you're looking for something a little bit erotic, filled with adventure and magic and romance and all sorts of other good things, VAMPIRE ACADEMY is the perfect book to pick up. I blew through it in an afternoon, and can't wait to read the rest of the books. Especially since they're all on sale right now, so I could pick up all six for just under $12. I never actually finished the series and can't wait to see how it ends. Especially with the zinger that this one ended on. Shadow-kissed, indeed.

4.5 out of 5 stars