When it comes to vampire novels, I have very specific things that I like and very specific things that I don't like. I guess you could say that I like my vampire novels the way I like my coffee: smooth, dark, not at all sweet, and with a whole lot of bite. Three vampire novels that did it all "right" in my opinion are Tanith Lee's DARK DANCE, Trisha Baker's CRIMSON KISS (first book only, though), and Heather Crews's DREAMS FOR THE DEAD.
When Heather gave DIE BY THE DROP a glowing four-star review, claiming that it was everything she liked to read about in a vampire story, I immediately raced to pick it up. Especially because it was free, and the only thing in the world better than a good vampire story is a free vampire story, especially when it's being lauded by one of my favorite people on the internet. I read DIE BY THE DROP immediately, and asked myself, WTF.
Did we read different vampire books?
The story is pretty simple: Evie is just an ordinary girl who ends up becoming the plaything for three vampire "brothers" named Jesse, Vaughn, and Liam, when they happen upon her as she's storming from a party. Their initial plan was to kill her after torturing her and having sex with her, but it turns out that Evie is actually an empathic witch, which makes sex extra interesting. Their leader, Jesse, decides she's interesting enough to keep around as they go on a psychotic road trip. That's the plot.
Reading the Amazon reviews for this book was a hilarious experience because the things that people were upset about over there aren't the things that bothered me about this book at all. "This isn't a romance!" they cried. "This is torture and violence!" Which, okay, fair enough. But then, what did you expect from a vampire erotica called "DIE BY THE DROP"? Twilight: The Musical? I wonder about people sometimes. I actually have no problem with rough and kinky stuff in fiction if it fits the tone of the story (and no children or animals are involved, because I find that disturbing and upsetting). What I have a problem with is bad writing, which this book has in spades.
The sex scenes were just disgustingly written - not because of the content (I want to emphasize that) but because of the words used to describe them. Overuse of words like "juicy" and "sloppy" (ugh), and phrases like "defenseless little star" used to describe an anus. This author also uses my least favorite word for the female anatomy, and Evie's "kitty-cat" has so many action verbs that you would think her hoohah was an autonomous entity in and of itself. Um, yeah, no thanks!
The second half of the book was much, much better than the first and the writing improved significantly. I wondered if maybe the second half of the book was completed at a much later date (like the author had written the first half and then written the second half a few years later after shelving it), or if two different versions of the story had been smooshed together. The difference in tone and quality was that noticeable for me. I'm sorry to give this a relatively low rating because I did think there was a lot of potential with this book and I loved the idea of the story Bennett was trying to tell; I just absolutely loathed the execution and the disgusting, juicily dripping sex scenes.
I'd be willing to read the sequel if it was free like the first one, but I won't be shelling out $ for it.
There's a part of me that's screaming, "Five stars! Five stars! Five stars!" with regard to how I should review this book. To be fair, it's a really good book. I'd been wanting to get into Laura Kinsale's works for ever because of how lovingly touted they were in the Smart Bitches's romance-themed book, BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS. Lately, her books have been going on sale for $1.99 in the Kindle store and I've been snapping them up left and right.
Elayne is a bit of a wild child growing up in the rural forests of England with occasional tutelage in herbal-type medicine from her godmother. She has a flirtation going with a knight, and despairs a little about her single status but is otherwise content with her life.
All of that changes when Elayne finds out that she's an Italian princess in hiding, sheltered from the chaos and the bloodshed across the water. Don't worry, though. She gets to make up for lost time when one of these power-mad would-be despots hires a bunch of pirates to take Elayne and her guardian, drugs her, marries her while drugged and then fakes the consummation, only to rapily accost her later and ensure that there's a legit consummation later.
The perpetrator of these foul deeds is a Bad Man named Allegreto: nobleman, assassin, pirate.
The beginning of the book feels much like a traditional bodice ripper, like something you'd see in the 70s or 80s, which is why the sex in this book stands out. Allegreto might hold all the power in the beginning, but by the end of the book, he is utterly in Elayne's thrall. Also, considering SHADOWHEART was published in 2004 - as a mainstream title - it is kinky AF. You wouldn't guess it from that innocent little cover, but there's some serious masochistic/Fem-Dom action up in here.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the court intrigue, the gorgeous passages of writing, and the cinematic aspect of the story as it rolls along, with sweeping backgrounds, intense confessions, and heart-stopping betrayals. It made me feel like I was watching The Princess Bride, or reading one of those older epics like GONE WITH THE WIND, where the romance in romance novels could often be overshadowed by the plot - and came out all the better, for it.
So why not five stars! five stars! five stars! you ask? Even though there was so much of the story that I loved, there were many moments when I did not buy the characters' developments. Elayne's proclivities for domination and inflicting pain seem to come out of nowhere, and I was a little surprised at how quickly and competently she turned Monteverde on its head and gamed the political system with no formal training in such matters (although Allegreto did help her a little, I guess). I was also puzzled by Allegreto's character: in the beginning he is icy, cold, and utterly in control. At the end of the book, he's a hot mess: angsty and weepy, with such soul-wrenching agony that I was half-tempted to put on some My Chemical Romance or some Smile Empty Soul in sympathy. I don't mind the direction his character took, but I would have liked to have understood it more.
SHADOWHEART is a really dark, sexy medieval romance, and if you enjoy stories about taboo romance and court intrigue, I think you'll really like this book. Don't believe me? Just check out some of the quotes in my status updates for this book. Go ahead, I'll wa - what's that? You already bought the book? You're halfway done with it already?
Writing this review makes me sad because I really wanted to love this book for several reasons. One, because I'm friends with the author on Goodreads, have chatted with her, and really like her as a person; she seems really kind, laid-back, and funny. Two, because I am in love with that cover. It seems to be paying homage to the bodice-rippers of the 1980s and 90s, which I am all for, as you probably know, being the self-professed Bodice Ripper Kahleesi. And three, the idea of a paranormal romance involving the four Horsemen of the apocalypse was a really unique idea and I wanted to support it, was hoping for something like J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood meets R. Lee Smith's Last Hour of Gann.
Instead I got, TWILIGHT meets the apocalypse.
The beginning and ending are unarguably the best parts of this book. Sara Burns, the heroine, is a firefighter who has literally drawn the short stick to stay behind and protect her town at all costs. When she sees Pestilence riding his horse, she shoots him and then lights his body on fire. To her horror, he comes for her, half-rotting and dead, and makes her his prisoner, vowing to her that as soon as he's fully healed, he intends to make her suffer. His treatment of her is so cruel, and the story plays out across all these abandoned households and ghost-towns filled with the dead. It's creepy AF.
The problem occurs with what I think of as insta-love, even though it doesn't happen instantly - Sara's attraction to Pestilence happens much too fast. I saw it coming because the descriptions of his angelic beauty were far too numerous to ignore the warning signs looming on the horizons. I certainly wasn't happy about it, though, especially since she forgives his abusive treatment of her - shooting her in the back with arrows, dragging her bound down a tarmac road while he's on horseback, etc. - remarkably quickly. One of the thing I love about R. Lee Smith's work, who also specializes in immortal love stories, is that 1) she isn't afraid to make her heroes repulsive or at least inhuman and 2) the connections that are forged between her characters unravel gradually, amidst much emotional strife. I kept thinking how much better this story might have played out in the hands of an author like that.
I did like how the apocalyptic setting brought out the worst in people, although there were several scenes that were almost identical in how they played out. These scenes gave me a taste of the grim setting I was expecting. I also liked the old couple they might at one point, and was quite moved by their story. That was one of the saddest parts of the book. As I said, the ending was also great and brought up some very interesting moral dilemmas; it also felt like a very different book from the first. It was like the author had 2 disparate ideas: one about a messed-up romance between a monster and an ordinary human girl (R. Lee Smith) and the other about a tender romance between a misunderstood and tragic figure who must be redeemed by an ordinary human girl (Stephenie Meyer). They really didn't mesh for me.
Also, Pestilence says some pretty creepy things to Sara about her not being a virgin. I quoted the thing he said in one of my status updates, but that made me really not like him, and that's supposedly after he's started to fall for her. What the hell, Pestilence? Sure, he redeemed himself in the end, but there's a pattern of creep behavior here that was never sufficiently addressed or talked through.
Overall, I found myself sadly disappointed by this book because so many people were giving it high ratings and I really wanted to enjoy it too. I can't help but feel that they read a different book than I did, as seems to be the case for a lot of these YA/NA new releases lately. I do have other books by this author on my Kindle, so I'm hoping that they might be better for me than this one. I also saw that the second book in this series is about War, so maybe a character who deals in battles will be more appealing to me than one who deals in fevers and plagues.
Thank you, Heather, for buddy-reading this with me!
I just read this amazing book called THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR, which I've been trying to get all my friends to read. It's this amazing historical epic that takes place in Nazi Germany, which also has a love story in it - it's one of the darkest books I've ever read, but the characterization was so good, the narrative so taut, that I know it's going to be one of those books that stays with me for years. That also meant the Queen of All Book Slumps once I'd finished it. Suddenly, the other books I'd been reading lost their shiny appeal. "What would I read next?"
Then I saw some of my friends talking about MIDNIGHT HUNTER. Set roughly 20 years after the Nazis were defeated in WWII, it takes place during the Cold War, in East Germany, when the German Democratic Republic built the wall between East and West Berlins and East Germany was governed by the Stasi, or the ruthless state police.
I read this with my friend Vellini, who is amazing because she loves dark romances as much as I do, so the last couple times when I've suggested a BR, she's always been there. When she gave it five stars, I knew it was going to be good, because she so rarely disappoints me. And MIDNIGHT HUNTER is an amazing book. It's like the sequel to THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR that I didn't even know I needed, with many of the same themes of power, corruption, and love.
Evony is planning to escape from East Berlin with her father and some friends when their escape is halted by the fearsome Mitternachtsjäger (Midnight Hunter), Reinhardt Volker, a Stasi officer of high rank who is notorious for always getting his quarry. After shooting one of her friends in the street, he takes her to his apartment as his "prize," where he grooms her to be his secretary and, later, his lover.
I really enjoyed this book. The pacing was excellent and it has wonderful action sequences that really keep the pace moving. It's appropriately dark and solemn when it needs to be, but it's not one of those books that's all too common these days, that revels in the unsavory just for shock value. Volker is a terrible man, but his growing affection for the heroine softens him (but not unrealistically!) and he never takes her against her will. And the sex scenes! Oh boy! They were hot!
If you like historical romances and dark romances where the villain gets the girl, MIDNIGHT HUNTER will be a great read for you. I hope the author decides to write more historical romances - this seemed wonderfully researched, and each page was an absolute pleasure to read.
I've read several mafia romances and so far all of them, without exception, have been incredibly stupid.
My expectations when I picked up PASSION & VENOM were low, but I needed a book with a skull on the cover for a Halloween challenge and it was free (and still is free as of 11/4) in the Kindle store, so I figured, "Why not? YOLO."
To my surprise, PASSION & VENOM was actually a decent read. It has the dubious honor of being the only mafia romance I didn't want to throw out the window.
Unfortunately, it is still kind of stupid.
There are two kinds of stupid. There is the kind of stupid that makes you want to throw books out the window, and the kind of stupid that feels incredibly fun and goes best with popcorn. This book is the latter. In fact, it shares many attributes (good and bad) with the books of one of my favorite authors of all time: Bertrice Small. I would call her books stupid, but I love them all the same. The over-the-top situations, bad writing, inexplicable violence, and d-bag heroes are part of the fun.
PASSION & VENOM is about a girl named Gia. On the day of her wedding, her husband is killed, Kill Bill style, and she is kidnapped and kept in squalor under the constant threat of torture. Her only companion is a man without arms - her captors cut his arms off, and this man warns her that they might very well do the same to her - or worse.
Her captor is a man named Draco Molina. One thing about him that I appreciated is that the author shows he is a bad guy without beating us over the head with it. He is not one of those ill-tempered buffoons who shows off his "might" by waving around a gun and yelling and basically acting impulsive. Everything Draco does is cold and calculating. He is scary, and some of the (graphic) scenes in here are downright disturbing, straight out of a 1970s bodice ripper.
There were two things about this book that I really couldn't forgive and ultimately these two things were what dragged down the rating of this book from a 4 star to a 3 star rating.
1. Gia doesn't really have much in the way of personality and falls for her captor way too quickly, given what he'd done. In the beginning, I felt for her. She was kidnapped and wanted to escape. I liked her resourcefulness and hoped to learn more about her as a character. I don't feel like she really developed from that point. She was a highly superficial character who only really had two facets: attempt to escape and fail spectacularly and fight attraction to Draco. He was a bad man. I would have liked to have seen more conflict about that attraction.
2. The writing is, at times, really terrible. The heroine refers to her vagina, repeatedly, as "her sacred place." People "smash their lips together" instead of pressing them together in thought. Some of the sex scenes are cringe-worthy and involve the phrases "I am making his face my b*tch" and "my nectar coating all of him." Blech, no, thank you. Using nectar for sexy times is almost as bad as "cream."
Lastly, I wasn't thrilled that Draco's relationship to her and her family is teased at throughout the entire book, only to end on a cliffhanger. I also thought that the relationship between Gia and Francesca was interesting but it yo-yo'd a lot for the convenience of the plot, and it might have been nice to see more development there (as opposed to the sudden events of the ending).
Overall, thought, PASSION & VENOM was a pleasant surprise. I found it to be a fun, quick read that hit all the same buttons as a 1970s bodice ripper pulling all the triggering stops. I don't recommend this for the faint of heart (so anyone who doesn't appreciate reading about violence, rape, gore), or for people who balk at the idea of trashy books for entertainment value (ya squares!), but if you like dark romances where the villain gets the girl or are fed up with bad mafia romances, like I am, then you should probably give PASSION & VENOM a try.
The Kindle freebie section can be a cesspool of literary garbage, but once in a while, you dredge up a total gem. THE KILLING MOON, named after an Echo & the Bunnymen song, is like a cross between one of those gritty early 00's paranormal romances and the movie, The Silence of the Lambs.
Dana was kidnapped and tortured by a werewolf named Cole, but their relationship was complicated before that, and became way more complicated afterwards. Now he's locked up and she's a professional werewolf tracker, and she's forced to interact with him yet again because of information he may or may not have about a bunch of werewolf-related murders. It's painfully clear how damaged she is psychologically, and the struggle between the mind and the heart is clear as she struggles to resist the manipulative Cole.
I thought the murder mystery part was very well done. The pacing was excellent and the flashbacks heightened tension and improved the storyline instead of bogging it down. Dana was a sympathetic main character and even though she made some stupid decisions, I felt like they were in line with her character and they never bordered on TSTL - because she's one seriously F'd up piece of work.
Cole was actually sexy and that's testament to the author's skills, in my opinion, that she managed to turn a werewolf serial killer into an attractive love interest. The sexual tension between him and Dana was seriously off the charts. I think what makes it work is that it's clear that he respects Dana and understands her. He's not an alphahole. Avery was also a great male character and I couldn't decide whether I wanted Dana to end up with him or Cole. Hollis, on the other hand? Total slime-bucket. Hated him immediately and wanted him dead by the end. Boooo!
THE KILLING MOON has some disturbing content (rape, gore, kidnapping, etc.), but it was nothing too graphic in my opinion, and it never felt gratuitous. The pacing is tight and I was actually almost late for work one morning because I just had to find out what happened next. I really enjoyed the story and the tone of THE KILLING MOON and am definitely interested in reading the sequel(s).
Some books are bad. Some books are very bad. And some books are so bad that they take the concept of "terrible" to such deplorably base lows that it is almost avant garde. That is how bad CRIMSON SHADOWS was: bad enough that it ought to be showcased in an exhibit as a symbol of existential despair and intellectual ennui.
I've been working my way through the Crimson series since April of last year. CRIMSON KISS was good enough that I bought the entire series immediately. "Finally!" I thought. "A vampire series that isn't afraid to be dark! Complex and interesting characters and relationships, a heroine who wants to kill the hero in the name of revenge, and a 'love interest' who is genuinely dark and terrifying and seems utterly incapable of being redeemed."
Doesn't that sound awesome? I thought so too. Hence the four star rating and foolish optimism.
The second book, CRIMSON NIGHT, was where I began to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake. Simon Baldevar, the vampire antihero from the first book, was pretty solidly established as an abusive, sociopathic freak of nature whose good looks were his only redeeming characteristic. What he did to the heroine was awful (what didn't he do to the heroine? Poor Meghann). It seemed like Baker was setting the stage for a love-hate relationship of epic proportions borne of revenge and reluctant sexual attraction, because Simon was so obviously a villain. Instead, she set about ret-conning everything that had happened in the previous book, painting Meghann's abuse in a rosy light, and actively attempting to make Simon into a romantic hero, replete with candlelight and roses. Oh, and the sex? The sex was weird. Let's just say that it involves blood, and not in an "Oh! I bit you during intercourse! I'm a vampire! I find that sexy!" way.
Since the book ended with them having children, I figured that those children were probably going to come into play in CRIMSON SHADOWS. Vampires aren't supposed to have children, but Simon is good at alchemy and managed to magic Meghann into being fertile for vampy offspring. For some reason, one of the children is human (but psychic) and the other child is vampiric (and deformed). That could be interesting, I thought. Misguidedly. Naively. Innocently.
***WARNING: SPOILERS AND DESCRIPTIONS OF GRAPHIC CONTENT***
Reading this book put me into such a weird mood, because while it was utterly bad and ruined what started out as such a strong series for me, I couldn't help but applaud the author for her give-no-f*cks attitude. Trisha Baker obviously writes whatever she wants, and on one level, I have to respect that. This book was over-the-top in a way that most books stopped being over the top in the mid-80s. It was a throwback to an era where the sex was gratuitous and awful, the heroines were infuriating and foot-stampy, and the heroes were psychotic d-bags who equated murder with courtship.
On the other hand, what the actual hell did I just read? Some of you have been following my status updates for this book and have seen examples of the sex scenes included in CRIMSON SHADOWS. My 'favorite' was this scene where Simon teabags Meghann's bloody neck before having her give him a blowjob. Ew.
Speaking of EW, Mikal. Mikal is a piece of work. He is the vampiric twin of Meghann and Simon and does some of the most heinous things I've seen a character do in a romance novel. He rapes someone to death when he is still just a child (and of course, his character is gay and his father says how disgusting this is). He rapes and kills an old lady. He tricks his sister into sleeping with him, and then later rapes and beats her and his mother (even shouting "I never got to breast feed!" before attacking her in the boob with his fangs, because that just happened).
I also hated Jimmy by the end of this book, too. Jimmy is still hanging around Maggie, even though she's back with Simon. He slut-shames her and insults her and makes her feel bad about being with a serial killer vampire (which...okay, I had mixed feelings about that - because girl, please, have some pride. He hits you and threatens you and treats you like a child - why are you still with him?). After Meghann makes it pretty clear that they're never going to happen, he decides that he's going to go after her daughter, Ellie, instead. Ellie, who is human and seventeen. Ellie, who he raised as a daughter. Jimmy looks thirty and has been a vampire for a lot longer than that. This was so creepy to me. I mean, how do you go from, "I'm your daddy" to "I'm your daddy"? (Please don't answer this. It was a rhetorical question. I don't want to know.)
Throw in a bunch of special snowflake action, additional magical powers that manifest when convenient to the plot, surprise incest, vilification of gay characters, gratuitous gore, and a bunch of stupid sexist a-holes and spineless heroines, and you get the book equivalent of a middle finger. By the time I reached the end, I was ready to flip this book the bird right on back. There's just one book left in this series and, yes, I own it...but now I'm a little afraid to pick it up.
I received an advanced copy of this for review several years ago. Unfortunately, I don't remember what I said about LEMONADE that first time, only that I gave it three stars and was disturbed by the rather brutal rape scene that takes place about 1/3 of the way through the book. And yet, despite only giving it three stars, LEMONADE has haunted me for two years. I kept thinking about Anna and Christopher and their doomed-before-it-even-began romance (if you can bring yourself to call it that). I wondered if perhaps I had been too harsh on the book, because if something can stay with you for that long, it must be good.
LEMONADE was originally published in Italian and then was translated into English. It is written in a very unique way that is difficult to explain - random asides in parenthesis to emphasis certain emotional moments for various characters; some very colorful and strange analogies and metaphors that sometimes fit and sometimes don't but are always unusual; and a charmingly stilted style of writing that is almost anachronistic, but smacks of 80s over-the-top sensationalism.
The heroine, Anna Champion, ends up catching the hero's attention over a misunderstanding with a glass of lemonade. He wounds her pride and she seeks revenge. It is a small, petty revenge, but Christopher is so damaged that his ego cannot stand even that small of an insult, and the next 450 pages consist of the two characters drawing to draw blood, figuratively and literally, any way they can. Some people will not like this because Christopher is such an awful character. He truly is a villain. And yet, it's impossible not to feel sorry for him at times because of everything he went through. Anna is very much the same way. At times I found her to be a very strong character, but she would buckle at random times, too, and sometimes she would be so stupidly petty. They both had issues, and in the end, I feel like the author was suggesting that they deserved one another.
In some ways, LEMONADE reminded me of that Japanese manga/anime, Hana Yori Dango. Christopher is just as cold and impulsive as Tsukasa Domyoji. I enjoyed the beginning of the book, but after a while, LEMONADE started to feel very repetitive. I still enjoyed it, but I feel I would have enjoyed it more if the pacing had been tighter and it ended about 100 pages earlier. If you're a fan of vintage bodice rippers (and Hana Yori Dango), you should check out LEMONADE. Even if you absolutely hate it, it's highly unlikely that you'd read another book like it published in this day and age.
It's not exactly a secret that I like dark romance novels, especially when it comes to bodice rippers and vampire novels. CRIMSON KISS was basically a combination of both, and I really enjoyed it, despite the dark content. And trust me, there was a lot of dark content: sexual, physical, and psychological torture; rape and abuse; bloody or gory descriptions; mentions of pedophilia & bestiality. It could have been a really awful book but I felt for the most part that Trisha Baker handled the content well. The relationship between Meghann and Simon Baldevar was obviously an unhealthy one, and even when she kept going back to him again and again, it was obvious that she was still caught up in his web. CRIMSON KISS made me feel uncomfortable, but it was also an interesting portrait of twisted characters who become infinitely more debauched and depraved with the jaded ennui that comes from immortality.
CRIMSON NIGHT is...not like that. First, let me just say that if you choose to write your (anti)hero as twisted as Simon is, you have two choices if you want him to end up with the heroine: he either (a) has to enter one hell of a redemption arc (and have a viable reason for wanting to do so), or (b) has to completely and utterly break the heroine psychologically, to the point that it becomes a grim Stockholm syndrome mess. I have seen stories that took both routes, and one usually becomes a dark romance, and the other a dark tragedy. Those are really the only two options when it comes to antihero "love" interests, but I got the impression that Baker wasn't sure which route to pick, so she tried to do both at the same time.
It did not work.
***SPOILERS AND GRAPHIC CONTENT DESCRIPTIONS***
CRIMSON KISS was a portrait of abuse. Simon isolated Meghann from her family, tortured her, abused her, forced her to kill and torture others (including her ex-fiance). He came damn close to killing her, just to prove a point! She was kept in isolation, unless he wanted to parade her around in front of others as a trophy to exert his power over her and show just how confident he was that she couldn't escape. When Meghann did escape, she wasn't just trying to kill him for her freedom. No, she was subverting his control, which he took personally. This was the set-up for what I thought was going to be an intense revenge arc, with the two of them resorting to bloody Machiavellian schemes to get back at one another, culminating in either hate-infused lust, or a twisted mutual respect (like the kind that Hannibal had for Clarice).
Instead, in CRIMSON NIGHT, I honestly felt that Baker set about ret-conning the events of the previous book. First, Simon decides that he doesn't want revenge on Meghann because she didn't really mean to kill him. It was an "accident." At first I thought this was arrogance on his part, but Meghann also seems to corroborate this later on. Boom - angsty revenge plot out the window. Second, Meghann starts looking back on her past with Simon with a rosy lens. She talks about the fun outings they had together, how much she enjoyed having sex with him. It's been a while since I read the book, but I don't remember this happening. She was miserable all the time. She was his prisoner. She was embarrassed by his weird kinks and depressed about being his sexual prisoner. Seeing his treatment of her seemingly romanticized like this really put a bad taste in my mouth.
Simon is still a bad guy in this book. His treatment of his sire, Nicholas, was awful. At one point, he uses his mind powers to convince someone to commit suicide. He disparages the two wives he had before Meghann for being unattractive (I think he describes her as being like "lard") and weak, respectively. He refers to the gay vampire, Charles, as a sodomite/catamite so many times that I lost count. There are some graphic descriptions of torture in this book, as in the other, but they are less frequent. Mostly, we just get to see Simon demean other women (and gay people), while Meghann admires his thickly lined pockets, sexual prowess, and predilection for intimidating people.
Then there was some stuff that was just weird. Weird sexual things involving blood and lactation (almost all the sex in this book involves blood, so if that's a squick factor for you, be forewarned). The vampire pregnancy. The science used to explain said pregnancy (this was actually kind of cool). Simon's druidic/alchemical powers. Demon summoning. Entire swaths of the story set in Elizabethan England (and more ret-conning to make Simon look like a more sympathetic character). This story was just...weird. Uncomfortably weird. Weirdly uncomfortable. Uncomforweird.
You're probably asking yourself why I didn't give it a one-star since I hated it so much. Well, that's the thing. I didn't hate it. I hated the romance, and I hated Simon, and by the end of the story I even hated Meghann because she was just so passive and idiotic. But I didn't hate the story. I couldn't put the book down, and finished it in a day. I've never read a vampire story quite like this.
Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is entirely up to you.
Biting the bullet here and bumping this up to five stars. I tend to rate my friends' books extra conservatively to ensure that there's no conflict of interest, but I've reread this probably close to ten times since I've purchased it, and the characterization is top notch and the sex scenes are great, and the story is great. It's the vampire story I always wanted to read, only I didn't know that until I picked it up. I'm currently pestering her to write Branek's story because I desperately need more from this universe. Heather, maybe you can do like J.R. Ward did and write a story from each of their POVs? I wouldn't mind reading a story about Leila and Jared, either.
Disclaimer: Heather is my friend.
I bought this book recently because it was one of the few books of Heather's I don't already own. Let me preface this review by saying that I have very specific ideas of how vampire books ought to be written, and that I tend to subscribe to the pre-2000s view of vampires books: that is, back when vampire romance could also double as horror; has a moody, Gothic atmosphere; and tended to be as dark as blood, with some deep philosophical themes.
Dawn Larkin is an ordinary college student who's out at a bar with her friend Leila one night, meeting Leila's new fling. She ends up being a witness to her friend's kidnapping that same night and is later taken by the same people. She thinks they're a bunch of sexually depraved psychopaths, which is only half-true: they're a family of vampires who keep people as their "toys."
The vampire who kidnaps Dawn is named Tristan, and he kind of has a young Jim Morrison vibe going on. Dawn is attracted to him, while also repulsed and afraid of him, too, and eventually it turns into a romance - but a weird romance. A very weird romance. Like if you took TWILIGHT, made Edward a genuinely bad man, made made James an even worse man, and turned Carlisle and all the vampire siblings into gleeful killing machines, you would have an approximation of what DREAMS OF THE DEAD would be like. Plus, kinky vampire sex, which definitely was not in TWILIGHT.
For about 50-60% of the book, it was pretty much perfect. I was sure it was going to be a 5-star book. Toward the end, some things happened that I didn't really like, but that was just me being annoyed that the story didn't end exactly how I wanted it to. I can't really go into what, exactly, annoyed me, because spoilers, but you can chalk it up to a personal preference or ask me in the comments, and I'll be happy to tell you. Mostly, I loved this book. The Las Vegas setting is so colorful and adds a lot of atmosphere to the book. Tristan and Dawn's trainwreck of a relationship is so fascinating to watch. The supporting characters are equally interesting, although I wanted to learn more about Jared and Augusta and (especially) Branek. He needs his own book, okay, I'm serious now.
Also, I was into this book enough that I came up with a mini soundtrack of my own for it:
"Dreaming in the Daylight" by Harlin James and Duffy Sylvander
"Chokehold" by Adam Lambert
"A Broken Toy" by John Moukarzel
I've read five of her stories now and this is probably Heather's best, in my opinion. It's the most developed and interesting, with some truly flawed characters. Honestly, though? As long as she keeps writing vampires, I'll keep coming back again and again, because she's amazing at it. The world needs more doomy and gloomy vampire novels.
If books were wine, BLACK ICE would be a sweet white; good at first, but man, does it not hold up well over time. I read BLACK ICE for the first time about three years ago. Several of my friends kept recommending the book to me, because they know I like dark/anti-heroes in my fiction, and I was really excited to hear that.
The antihero, Bastien Toussaint, is probably the book's saving grace. He's a compelling character, just as cold as the title would leave you to believe. His first sexual encounter with the heroine is a rape, and what's most chilling about it is how little emotion there is behind it. He doesn't care about anything, not even his own life (in fact, he's a little suicidal), and certainly not about some random woman.
When I first read the book, I didn't know what was going to happen, and I'd never encountered a romantic lead like Bastien before (this was before I started getting into bodice rippers, where pretty much all heroes are giant jerks). The hero and heroine were both on the run for their lives in France, chased by arms dealers, fighting the reluctant attraction between each other...it had the recipe for a brilliant story.
While my original rating of the book was a 4.5, I'm reducing it to 2 in this reread because there are some pretty big problems that I didn't notice in my initial read. Problem #1 is Chloe. She's annoying and wimpy and pretty much everything I do not like in a heroine. I tried to roll with it, because her life was in danger and she was pretty sheltered up to that point, but it's really hard to like a character who seems to have no spine and does nothing but stammer and cry and whine.
Problem #2 is the pacing. The beginning of this book is atmospheric and tense. Chloe ends up in a house with all these "grocers", working as a translator for the international and mixed group. But all of them appear to be hiding something and keep issuing sinister veiled threats, to the point where even Chloe begins to think something is wrong. Then she's tortured, and Bastien saves her because he feels sorry for her, and the two of them go on the run and argue about stupid things, like whether or not he finds her attractive and whether or not he's going to kill her. The pacing really sags in the middle and doesn't pick up again until the last 70 pages. When they do fall in love, it feels sudden, because up until that moment Chloe feared him & didn't trust him, and Bastien seemed intent on ending his own life. I don't think I noticed this the first time because I was so caught up in finding out how it would end, but during the reread it stuck out to me that this love comes out of nowhere.
It's weird that Anne Stuart authored both House of Rohan and the Ice series because the two stories could not be more different. I've read a few of her older historical works too, including a Gothic novel from the 70s and a Medieval romance she published in the 80s or 90s (I can't remember). She's incredibly versatile, which is to be lauded, but for some reason, her historical heroines tend to be much more likable, interesting, and strong than the heroines in her modern romances. I wonder why?
I'll probably give the Ice series a second try, because I heard books 2 and 3 were good, but I'd rather spend my money on House of Rohan right now, because House of Rohan is totally amazing.
If you want to give this book a go, though, it's only $2.99 on Kindle at the time of my posting this.
I've said over and over that zombie books just aren't for me, so it just figures that R. Lee Smith would be the one to prove me wrong. Smith is a relatively recent discovery for me and quickly became a fast favorite, because honestly, how can you NOT fall in love with an author who can convince you that demons, insect-men, lizard-men, and zombie men can be romantic leads?
LAND OF THE BEAUTIFUL DEAD is a post-apocalyptic book set in a grim world where a man named Azrael has taken over England and raised the dead. Zombies (called Eaters) wander across the landscape, eating the unwary, and providing a living, crawling fortress for the heart of his realm: Haven.
Humanity has all but destroyed itself - and the land, and the sky - in a failed attempt to destroy that which does not die. Our heroine, Lan, has yet another idea. She plans to go to Haven and demand an audience, to persuade Azrael to destroy the Eaters.
She ends up becoming his mistress instead.
LAND OF THE DEAD is a difficult book to rate, because there were things I loved about it and things I didn't. One of the things I loved was the supporting cast. One of Smith's strong points is that she breathes life into ALL of her characters, not just the leads. Batuuli, Solveig, Serafina, Deimos, and Wickham were all wonderful characters, and I liked them a lot more than I did the two main characters, which was unfortunate - especially since at least one of these characters never makes it to end credits.
I also loved the world-building. It felt unfinished - especially since we never fully understand what Azrael is or how humanity crumbled - but it was imaginative and original, just like all of Smith's other works. I saw another reviewer saying that she wished she could live in Smith's head for a day, and I can't help but agree. Her stories are truly unique, and she knows how to turn a phrase. The best way to describe her work is to say that she's like if Stephen King wrote fantasy/horror romances.
Lan was something I felt ambivalent about. Ditto Azrael. Their characters were well fleshed-out but I was so tired of them arguing over and over. Especially since most of these arguments were just repeats of the last arguments. Here's a quick synopsis. Lan: "Kill the Eaters." Azrael: "No." Lan: "Please." Azrael: "No." Lan: "Pretty please." Azrael: "No." Lan: "I hate you." Azrael: "K." Lan: "Let's have sex." Azrael: "K." Lan: "And afterwards, maybe you'll kill the Eaters...?" Azrael: "NO, ME-DAMMIT." *flips table*
By the end of the book, I do think their relationship had evolved past that, but Azrael changed a lot more than Lan did, and he sacrificed far more, in my opinion. His choices actually won me over because they showed how much he had grown from the beginning of the story. Lan, on the other hand...did not. Although I did appreciate the fact that she wasn't beautiful and was also illiterate and crude. That was a refreshing change from the usual line-up of impossibly beautiful and clever heroines that line the fantasy and science-fiction shelves.
The constant arguments and inconsistent pacing make this book feel a lot longer than SCHOLOMANCE or LAST HOUR OF GANN. I found myself wishing I was reading those books instead at several points during this book, because LAND OF THE BEAUTIFUL DEAD felt like a less cleanly executed meld of those two stories. It's a great story, but it's not one I would suggest to readers discovering Smith for the first time and I think people who aren't fans of Smith or her verbose writing style will be frustrated with the rambling length of this massive tome.
I enjoyed LAND OF THE BEAUTIFUL DEAD but I do consider it a step down from some of her previous works. That said, I'm still very interested in reading more of her work, and I hope that her next WIP is just as original and disturbing as all of the other books of hers I've read.
Initially, I was really into CRIMSON KISS. It's the perfect fall read, a 90s story about vampires that fits perfectly into the niche pre-TWILIGHT vampire cannon. You can easily imagine a Goth adolescent curled up with this book in a pre-commercialized Starbucks while nursing a black Americano as the leaves and rain swirl past the window and Nirvana plays moodily over the speakers.
The structure of this book is very odd. It starts out in the "present" (1998), before reverting to the mid-40s. We're introduced to a teenage Meghann O'Neal, her loving Irish family, WWII war hero fiance, her hopes, her dreams. She meets a charming man named Simon Baldevar at a party who threatens to sweep her off her feet. She knows she shouldn't spend time with him because she's engaged, but can't seem to help herself. After a night spent painting the town red (pun unintended, actually), Simon declares himself in love with her and all but demands that his feelings be reciprocated.
Meghann falls for Simon, and that's when the romance ends and the nightmare begins. Oh, we already know that Simon's a vampire - but did you also know that he's a demented psychopath who likes torture, kink, and human misery? Neither did Meghann. But Simon immediately sets to weaving a web of psychological manipulation and, later, physical abuse, to trap Meghann permanently in his clutches and put her completely under his control. I was shocked at the amount of sexual and physical violence in this book, as well as how uncomfortably convincing the abusive relationship dynamic feels.
Back in the "present", Meghann is free and in a relationship with a human vampire slayer who also has a bone to pick with Simon. She has friends, a new mentor, and a Simon-sized chip on her shoulder. All of them have their own reasons for wanting Simon dead, but he's far more powerful than any of them had ever dreamed, and the cost of defeating him might be more than they can afford.
CRIMSON KISS follows the typical vampire mythos pretty straightforwardly. Dual timelines, Gothic settings, and lots of angst and existential musings create the backdrop and set the scene for CRIMSON. The execution is what causes this book to stand on its own two feet. Simon is a very bad man. The things he did shocked me, and made me sick to my stomach. He is scary. And Baker's very good at deceiving the reader so we get deceived right along with Meghann. This makes it easier to forgive when she falls for his tricks again and again, when she refuses to leave or give up her feelings for her abuser, or when she finds herself giving into him (sigh) yet again.
The other characters aren't quite as fleshed out as Meghann and Simon, but I did like Alcuin and Charles a lot. Jimmy, I liked less, but certain events at the end of the book suggest that he might meet with some interesting developments in the sequels. The evil villain and the gloom-and-doom atmosphere are what really drive this story forward, though, and Celtic folklore adds some interesting bells and whistles to the magic in this book. It really is the perfect fall read; I think this would be a great vampire book for October. It's creepy, haunting, and morbid. Plus, it's only $2.99 in the Kindle store - and so is the sequel. I mean, how do you beat that?
Elizabeth Hoyt is a name that frequently appears alongside other famous regency "brand names" like Lisa Kleypas and Courtney Milan, which just makes it all the more criminal that I haven't read this book until now. Because DUKE OF SIN...is incredible.
DUKE OF SIN is a bodice-ripper of the modern age, with an icy, tortured, dangerous gamma hero who wouldn't be out of place in an Anne Stuart novel.Valentine Napier is a hedonist and a ruthless blackmailer. He flaunts conventions, bedding men and women alike, and the only reason he hasn't been kicked out of polite society is because he has them all scared shitless that he'll reveal their secrets.
Bridget Crumb, his housekeeper, is working for him precisely because of that. Her mother is just one of many people the Duke has blackmailed, and she's using her vocation as an opportunity to search for the letters in his possession that will ruin her mother.
I wasn't expecting to love this book as much as I did. But Valentine is the epitome of everything I love in a romantic hero (and the fact that the author herself says that she imagines him as Tom Hiddleston certainly doesn't hurt!); he's clever, and ruthless, and sexy, and dangerous, and utterly capricious and mercurial. His back story is probably one of the darkest I've ever seen in a romance novel published after 1990, and brought me to tears at several points because of how broken he was; and he doesn't really angst about it - what's even more heartbreaking is that he doesn't realize that he's missing a vital part of what makes him human. He takes it completely for granted as being part of who he is. It's Bridget who realizes what's been done to him, and she who feels all the pain.
And let's talk about Bridget. I loved her no-nonsense ways, and her kindness. She was able to win over people by being very level-headed and calm and personable, so the fact that everyone was naturally drawn to her didn't seem Mary-Sue-ish at all. She made an effort. Her interactions with Valentine made me laugh and cry, by turns. The sexual chemistry between them was amazing - and surprise, when they finally do have sex, she isn't at all passive. In fact, she even initiates and takes charge on several instances. I can't tell you how much that shocked me (among other things).
I have a confession here: a huge reason behind my love for this novel is that Valentine really reminded me of Jareth from Labyrinth, so if you love the cool commanding hero who's witty, and totally in control, but who falls hard for the heroine in a way that borders on obsession, I would definitely recommend this book to you. DUKE OF SIN is a book that was made for Labyrinth fangirls. He's so regal and utterly absorbed in himself, that you don't question for one minute that he's of noble blood. The fact that he flaunts society's rules is testament to this.
And on that subject, I want to talk about the hero's bisexuality, because apparently that's got some people real mad. Yes, the hero is bisexual. He has sex with men. It isn't explicitly shown, but it's heavily implied, and you know that it probably happens behind closed doors. Some people were mad about that - and other people seemed to be upset that his bisexuality seemed to be included in his litany of perversions to show how depraved he is. I chose not to interpret it that way, although I can see how others would: rather, I saw it as the Duke wholeheartedly embracing who he was and what he wanted, selfishly, yes, but unapologetically using his sexual desires to fill the emptiness inside.
For those of you still on the fence, picture Tom Hiddleston masquerading as Jareth, while wearing a purple silk robe with a dragon on it...and nothing else.
💙 I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Wildcard - Whatever Romance You Want! For more info on this challenge, click here. 💙
I've had A ROSE AT MIDNIGHT on my to-read list for years and when my friend Heather told me it was on sale on Amazon for 99-cents, I shrieked. There are two kinds of romances that I love, you see: retro romances and romances where the villain gets the girl. This book is both those things. Instant five stars... or so I thought.
The premise of this book is great. Nicholas is a jaded and cruel libertine who has basically given up on life. He gambles, gets into duels, sleeps around, and doesn't care about anyone but himself. His greatest act of cruelty was allowing his French godfather to die in the French Revolution by refusing to marry his young daughter, thereby leaving him free to manage his own affairs and escape.
He tries to forget about that last one because it stirs up something a little too close to guilt in his blackened husk of a soul. But there is one person who hasn't forgotten and that's Ghislaine. Ghislaine is the daughter of Nicholas's godfather, and when he died both she and her young brother were forced to survive on the streets. Ghislaine went through fifty different kinds of hell to survive, and had to sacrifice her honor, her innocence, and her soul. She's been planning revenge this whole time.
She contrives to become Nicholas's cook through his young cousin, Ellen. Once installed in his household, she tries to poison him. Her attempt fails, and Nicholas decides it would be sporting to kidnap Ghislaine away to somewhere remote where he can punish her at his leisure.
I feel like A ROSE AT MIDNIGHT had a much darker book at its core. Ghislaine's background story is certainly one of the darker stories I've encountered in a book that was published after the 80s, calling to mind some of those tawdry tales penned by Jennifer Wilde, specifically LOVE'S TENDER FURY. The overall execution left me wanting, however. I feel like Nicholas talked a big game as a villain but that's mostly what it was - talk. He keeps talking about perverse pleasures, but for the first 70% of the book all he really does is kiss her. IT TAKES FOREVER FOR ANYTHING TO HAPPEN. And when it does, she wants it/doesn't want it, traitorous bodies, etc. Which I know annoys some people and I get that (but it doesn't bother me - because obviously, bodice ripper queen here, hello), and I can deal with some non-con if it fits the story and isn't glossed over.
Here, I felt like it was glossed over and the line between Ghislaine wanting to kill Nicholas and Ghislaine wanting to do the naughty with Nicholas ten times over wasn't really clear. When did she go from point A to point B? Particularly since he doesn't really soften towards her until the very end of the book when he decides to go all Rambo for the sake of her revenge (read: bloody murder). I guess I wanted a more ruthless and unapologetic hero who put his money (read: his peen) where his mouth was (read: whoops, that was pretty naughty) and then had the mother of all grovels in the last act, because I wasn't really convinced of his True Love for Ghislaine or why he would feel that way.
I also was not keen on the secondary romance. Ellen and Tony (one of Nicholas's friends) end up taking up a significant part of the page count and I wasn't really interested in him at all, since he is so smarmy. I found myself skimming when their scenes came up. They aren't even really mentioned in the blurb so that feels deceptive. I'll take my dark romance, thanks! Hold the fluff.
Despite these qualms, I did like the story and it was dark enough to capture my attention and keep me reading. If Ghislaine had kept her fire and Nicholas had been darker and more villainous, I think I would have enjoyed A ROSE AT MIDNIGHT more than I did. It certainly isn't as wishy-washy as other 90s bodice rippers I read, and I really appreciated the atmosphere and the effort that went into building Ghislaine's backstory. This definitely is not the worst thing Anne Stuart has ever written.
TO LOVE A DARK LORD, here I come!
P.S. Was it me, or did that epilogue feel totally tacked-on? What a lame, half-hearted ending.
After reading and being disappointed with A ROSE AT MIDNIGHT, I was a little leery about picking up TO LOVE A DARK LORD. I really shouldn't have felt so nervous, however; the friend who recommended this book to me has never led me astray, and was my introduction to such authors as R. Lee Smith and Victoria Holt.
This book was truly excellent. If ARaM was a Charmander, TLaDL is a Charizard; the foundations are similar, but the story-telling and characterization in To LOVE A DARK LORD are so much more powerful, unlike ARaM, where the secondary romance detracted and distracted from the main couple, in TLaDL, the secondary romance fuels the story and is just as romantic and heartwrenching.
Killoran is a jaded rake who spends all his time stirring up trouble when he's not actively (or passively) courting death. When he hears a racket in the room next to his in the inn he's staying at, he's quite surprised to find an innocent but beautiful blood-drenched woman standing over a corpse. Naturally, scandal arises, but Killoran casually takes credit for the murder before leaving her with the means to make an honest living of herself.
Emma is an orphan and an heiress who was raised by her creepy, lecherous uncle and religious fanatic cousin. One day, the two of them decide to kill off Emma to take her money, but her uncle can't help but want to sample the wares first (ew). After Emma kills him, she thinks that it's the end for her and is surprised when Fate intervenes in the form of a long-haired, green-eyed rogue with an Irish brogue and apparent death wish. He sends her off to be a governess but end up meeting once more after yet another tragedy befalls Emma, and this time - heh - he decides to keep her.
In many ways, Killoran reminded me a lot of Viscount Rohan from RUTHLESS - he's cold, manipulative, and cruel, which makes it even more delicious when he starts to fall for the heroine and moves heaven and earth to avoid admitting it to himself. I didn't like Emma quite as much as Elinor, but as far as historical romance heroines go, she was pretty great. After all, she was fairly adept at stopping would-be rapists and murderers on her own. The dark fire between them is so compelling, and serves as a fine counterpoint for the apparently star-crossed romance between Killoran's cousin, Nathaniel, and the debauched young noblewoman he's considering making his mistress, Barbara.
I loved the revenge plot in this book, because revenge is only a cold dish if it isn't in a romance novel; then it fires everything up. Everyone in this book has a tragic backstory (except Nathaniel, really, but even he receives his fair share of angst), and it really gives this book a dark, almost Gothic feel that was very, very appealing. Barbara's romance with Nathaniel was pure anguish. Likewise, once I found out a little more about Killoran, I felt really bad for him, too. And poor Emma!
No one is spared.
If you like dark romances and cruel heroes, TO LOVE A DARK LORD is a great pick - particularly if you like cruel heroes who don't lower themselves to dubious consent/forced seduction. There are a lot of authors who try to strike this gloomy balance of atmospheric tension and seduction and end up failing miserably, but Anne Stuart really strikes the iron while it's hot here (and yes, it is hot).
Hey guys, remember that time I forced you all to read DUKE OF SIN by Elizabeth Hoyt & we all had a grand ol' time? Well, RUTHLESS is just as good, and it was published before, which should probably account for something. Also, the hero is the ruler of his own den of iniquity where people have orgies and Satanic rituals and is called, appropriately enough, King of Hell.
Elinor Harriman is plunged headfirst into the first circle of hell when her syphilis-affected mother gets it into her head to gamble away the last of their money. She encounters Viscount Rohan, the King of Hell, who is amused by her no-nonsense demeanor. Rohan is bored, and has been bored for some time (it's no fun when you always get what you want). Elinor is precisely what he needs to cure his ennui, and he'll do anything to have her -
Including threatening her younger, incredibly beautiful sister.
Like DUKE OF SIN, RUTHLESS has many aspects of the bodice rippers that helped make the historical romance genre what it is today. Rohan is a jaded antihero who does some very bad things. (I'm sure Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is rolling her eyes at me, going, "Nenia, did you even read my book?" Which, yes, I did, but come on - how can you resist evil when it's tall, and sinfully charming, and decked out in velvet and lace? That's Jereth territory there, and y'all know how that goes.)
OBLIGATORY VISUAL INTERLUDE:
The story line is also quite dark, as Elinor has gone through some terrible things that haunt her even to this day, her mother's unscrupulous behavior aside. The love between her and her sister, Lydia, is palpable and extremely well done. There's a secondary romance between Lydia and one of the men in Rohan's employ, and it is utterly charming (although not quite interesting enough to carry a plot line of its own, so I was glad it was relegated to the background). In case all the UST and drama weren't enough to spur you along, there's also a murder subplot, and it's not halfhearted in the least.
Also, Elinor is just so goshdarned awesome. Her banter with the hero is hilarious and had me chuckling. It's hard not to fall for a plucky, no-nonsense heroine who is weary and clever.
He wanted entertainment, and respite from boredom? She would provide it. So thoroughly that he'd be afraid to go to sleep at night, for fear she'd stab him (279).
And let's not forget the sneery, imperious charm that is Viscount Rohan:
"I'm not in the mood to be seconding duels or even stopping them. If they want to kill each other then let them go ahead. I have servants to clean up the blood" (24).
The only thing about this story that really annoyed me was that the hero and heroine were kept apart for long periods of time in the middle of the book, just when things were getting interesting - much too long, if you asked me. It felt like this was less for plot purposes and more for filler, although that didn't stop me from swooping through all 400 pages of this book in about three hours.
IT WAS GOOD! I LIKED IT! I WANT TO READ MOAR!
If you're a fan of gamma-heroes, you'll like this book. Anne Stuart is famous for hers.