Book Review: Captive Prince Volume 1

9305362“This was Vere, voluptuous and decadent, country of honeyed poison”
Damen is a warrior hero to his people, and the truthful heir to the throne of Akielos, but when his half brother seizes power, Damen is captured, stripped of his identity and sent to serve the prince of an enemy nation as a pleasure slave.
Beautiful, manipulative and deadly, his new master Prince Laurent epitomizes the worst of the court at Vere. But in the lethal political web of the Veretian court, nothing is as it seems, and when Damen finds himself caught up in a play for the throne, he must work together with Laurent to survive and save his country.
For Damen, there is just one rule: never, ever reveal his true identity. Because the one man Damen needs is the one man who has more reason to hate him than anyone else…

It’s almost impossible for me to describe how incredible this story is. I was lucky because by the time I got to the party the second book was already complete, but I’ve read that a while ago and am desperately waiting for the final chapter in this trilogy. I have all the faith in the world that it will be the best one yet.

I have finally found a true, gritty, real, fantasy story with a beautiful enemies to lovers element in it. It’s not a romance. There’s no over the top declaration of love or a fluffy, happy ending here. It’s a story about two complex characters that have to fight through political chess plays, assassination attempts, and their own subjective views of the other to learn to work together for a greater cause. And in this pursuit they may even find that maybe they don’t hate each other as much as they thought…eventually.

Damen: He is an honourable warrior. And there isn’t really much more to him than that at the beginning. He’s been raised to lead his people from the throne and from the battlefield, sees things in black and white and has no inclination towards deceit or subterfuge. Which is why he also doesn’t see or understand those qualities in others. Seeing this story through Damen’s eyes is in turns intriguing and frustrating; it’s obvious that his viewpoint is colouring his understanding of the situations around him and therefore ours. This is great because it gives us an outsider’s viewpoint of the Veretian court and all its excesses, but frustrating because as a reader we know that there has to be something we’re missing because Damen doesn’t know to look out for it. For example; why would good men be loyal to Laurent if he was such a horrible person? That was the question that kept coming up for me and it was what made me realize that maybe Damen wasn’t seeing things as they truly were.

Laurent: He’s cold, calculating, cruel. Absolutely. And not just because that’s how Damen sees him. He truly is these things. But that’s not all there is to him, even if that’s all that Damen is capable of seeing through his hate and his fury at being held against his will. Laurent’s carefully calculated outward appearance fools everyone so completely that it’s hard to imagine anything but cruelty and evil coming from him…which is even more horrifying for his angelic appearance. But towards the end of this book we start to see some cracks in that armour, and he becomes, not quite more human, not yet, but definitely not what he appeared at first.

Now, in response to some common negative comments regarding the first book, here’s what I have to say (It’s okay that people don’t like it, and I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind…I myself have hated some books that others adore. These are just some thoughts for anyone who is on the fence because of these negative views) …

The depravity of the Veretian Court: The Veretian court is horrific. It’s a web of lies and deceit covered with depraved acts as entertainment. I’ve read many reviews of people who were horrified to see the pedophilia and rape and violence that was taken as a normal part of the court. Here’s the thing though; you were supposed to be horrified. These acts are never, in any way, meant to titillate or be glorified. They were meant to be seen as they were through Damen’s eyes; as nauseating and enraging. Even those who hate Laurent for allowing these things to continue have to remember…this isn’t his court. Not yet. He has no say in what goes on besides what he himself precipitates directly. And apart from the scene with Ansel (which was obviously not okay for him to do) he doesn’t participate actively in these things for the most part.

The lack of sexual/romantic chemistry: This is not a romance. Or at least not a typical romance. Yes, there are definitely romantic elements in this and it’s one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve ever read, but still…it’s not a romance. And if you’re going into it expecting a typical romance elements you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I’ve seen people shelve this as romance, or BDSM and I cringe. Because it’s neither. As I mentioned above this is a true enemies to lovers story. These MCs despise each other. Even if they can objectively agree that there is physical beauty in the other, it will never surmount their deep seated hatred for everything the other stands for. Not until they begin to break down barriers and see beyond the exterior. It’s also not a BDSM story, at all. The enslavement of Damen is not supposed to be sexy or an erotic device in any way, shape or form. Damen is meant to be a pleasure slave for Laurent, but it’s obvious from the beginning that Laurent wants nothing sexual from him, he wants only abject humiliation because he despises everything Damen stands for. So, if you’re looking for hardcore BDSM…or even mild BDSM…this isn’t the place.

Laurent is an asshole: Yes. He is. Because we’re looking at him through Damen’s eyes and Damen despises him. Again, this isn’t a thinly veiled plot device to add angst or sexual tension to an erotic romance. This is true hatred of one Prince for his sworn enemy and counterpart, and Damen’s revulsion at everything he sees as wrong and unjust. Damen is incapable of seeing complexity in individuals, preferring to label everyone in black and white terms, because that’s what he’s always known. Laurent can’t be labelled that way. Actually, it’s safe to say that no one can be labelled that way, ever. So, is Laurent an asshole? Yes, a lot of the times…but maybe he has reason to be and we just don’t know it yet. Maybe Damen just doesn’t know it yet either.

For my part, I went into this without much of an expectation in any direction, and was completely blown away by such an extraordinarily well-written story.

It is my favourite story, ever. Of any genre. From any author. Hands down. And I haven’t even read the final book in the trilogy.

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Book Review: Skin Game

indexHarry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day….

Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.

He doesn’t know the half of it….

Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.

It’s a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.

Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance…

Review

I have been in love with Harry Dresden for years. He is the epitome of a perfectly flawed character that I love to see triumph almost as much as I love to watch struggle with every step he has to take along the way.

The Dresden files never disappoints with its perfect mix of dark and light, emotion and humour and of course complex, interesting characters that you never quite know what to expect from next.

Skin Game was no different. As the winter knight, Harry must help Mab repay some debts that she’s incurred over the years and that leads to a typical Harry Dresden adventure with all its plot twists and magic and fun. But for me, the true gem in this story was Harry’s continuing internal struggle and how genuine it felt to me as a reader. Because in reality heroes aren’t perfect and any who claim they are aren’t really heroes to begin with. Harry is a perfect hero to me because of all his imperfections and insecurities and struggles. It makes him raw, and genuine and believable.

That’s why I love him. It’s why I love everything he does. And it’s why I will never stop reading The Dresden Files as long as Jim Butcher keeps writing a perfectly imperfect Harry Dresden. Because with just the right amount of snark and humour to counterbalance all the darkness, and an array of incredible secondary characters I love almost as much as Harry, I know Butcher can keep this incredible series going for years to come.

 

Book Review: An Uncommon Whore

cover55662-medium

“As a general rule, you won’t find the love of your life while you’re on your knees under a table.” — Helios Dayspring

Pasha is a slave, whoring for travelers at the most dangerous bar on Warlan. He has no memory, no future of his own, yet deep inside Pasha knows that that he is meant for better things. The day that Pasha spots the dangerous pirate in the bar, he knows that he mustn’t let the stranger slip away, regardless of what he must do to attract his attention.

Captain Griffin Hawke spent the greater part of a decade searching for his lost king, only to find Helios Dayspring crouched between his knees, swathed in the robes and shackles of a whore. Though he is appalled by the downfall of his king, the hardened officer finds himself falling for the allure of the sensual creature who has taken his place. Returning Helios to his position on the throne is the only right thing to do, yet Griffin knows that in doing so, he risks losing his lover forever.

“A whore is a whore is a whore, unless he’s something else completely. I guess I must be an uncommon whore.” — Helios Dayspring

*Arc provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

4.5 Stars

This is my first read by Belinda McBride, and I am definitely going to be looking for more of her work in the future. She is a master worldbuilder, able to weave a complex world in such a short amount of time and without a large info-dump. And even better, it all felt believable.

I loved the dynamic between Helios and Griffin, and the lessons they learned together felt genuine. It was heartbreaking to see Helios come back to himself and realize all that he’d lost. And even though the story was told from his perspective, I feel as though we were given such a depth of understanding as to what was going on in Griffon’s head as well. And it made it all the more heartbreaking and beautiful when they finally submitted to each other completely.

I selfishly wish this had been an epic fantasy novel/series. To watch these two grow up together and fall in love, to see their history unfolding on paper for us to experience first hand would have been incredible. But I am amazed at how much story, how much emotion and growth McBride was able to put into a novella.

I’m excited to read the rest of the series and see what’s in store for these two.

Book Review: The Curse Keepers

cover36242-smallThe wall between our world and that of vengeful spirits has protected humanity for more than 400 years. It’s about to come crashing down.

Ellie Lancaster has lived her whole life by the site of the mysterious Lost Colony of Roanoke, the Virginia settlement that vanished without a trace around 1590. Only the descendants of the two men who banished the spirits of an enemy tribe from the material realm know what really happened to the colony. Ellie is one of those descendants—a Curse Keeper. Her father took pains to teach her what he knew of the curse and the responsibilities of its guardians. He taught her that if the two Curse Keepers ever meet, the curse will be lifted, the gate will open, and the raging Native American spirits will be unleashed to seek their revenge.

Despite her father’s seriousness, Ellie has always taken the legend for a harmless fairy tale. Until she meets the darkly handsome, but downright infuriating, Collin Dailey and realizes everything she was told is true. For when they meet, it’s like the air is sucked from the room. Collin’s presence is electrifying… and it’s not just attraction Ellie feels, but the inexorable pull toward her destiny. The prophecy is real, and now Ellie and Collin must battle supernatural forces and their loathing—and passion—for each other to set things right.

The Curse Keepers are all that stand between the world and its destruction.

*Arc provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

4 Stars

I liked Ellie, with her bumbling way. Just a small town girl trying to live a quiet life and pretending she isn’t destined for greatness. Her repression of everything to do with the Curse Keepers feels genuine considering a very traumatic event that happens in her childhood, and I bought her avoidance of her role.

And Collin, in turn, is completely justified in his actions towards her in the beginning; he’s not arrogant or a prick, he’s just frustrated in finding that his counterpart takes this nowhere near as seriously as he does. No, that’s not quite right, maybe he is an arrogant prick, but he never pretends to be otherwise and is straight forward about what he wants, and doesn’t want from Ellie.

It’s refreshing to see the banter between them feeling genuine. She knows she’s attracted to him and blames it on their connection and doesn’t let it get in the way. The sexual tension is definitely there and they both do a pretty good job of ignoring it for a long time because they’re both aware they don’t mesh and are trying to concentrate on the job at hand. I also like that she doesn’t fall for his lines when he’s trying to charm her into doing what he wants. And when they do finally start coming together, the growth in their relationship doesn’t feel contrived. They grew very slowly and painfully to trust each other and learn to work with each other’s personalities.

But, once they gave in to their feelings all of a sudden it felt too much too soon for me. I think in order to be true to Collin’s character there should have been a little more tension on his end, and he shouldn’t have given in so easily.

Some of the subplot was unnecessary but overall it didn’t take away from the story and I was still invested in the characters throughout.

I was impressed that Swank went through with the twist at the end because even with all the foreshadowing I was expecting a cop-out and a tidy resolution. That definitely didn’t happen here and it set up the characters nicely for some tension in the next book.

I’m definitely invested in reading the rest of the series and in finding out what happened to these characters.

 

 

Book Review: Love By Design

cover51247-mediumRules are meant to be broken… only, he chooses which ones to break.

Renowned, self-taught baker Tristan James has everything going for him. Great friends. Women. Business success. His ultimate goal is to host his own TV show. All is perfect… until Mandy walks into his life. Tristan fears she’ll make him unearth the secrets he keeps.

She plays by the rules.

Amanda Roberts dreams of becoming a famous shoe designer, but her insecurities stand between her and her dream. She’s ready to give up when Tristan dares her to pursue her goal. Falling prey to his charms isn’t something she counts on, yet it’s unavoidable.

As their dreams finally become a reality, they must choose between love or the opportunity of a lifetime.

2.5 Stars

*Arc provided by Netgalley*

Let me start by saying that I adore this cover. It’s what caught my eye in the first place and the premise of the book sounded incredible. Bad boy with angst? Check. Good girl with big dreams. Check. It had all the ingredients to be a great, steamy story.

It started a little slow, and I didn’t immediately connect with the characters, but I didn’t want to give up because I knew there was something in there that could definitely work and make this book great. The characters had such potential! And for me, what makes a great story even more than any plot is the characters. There were some issues with the plot for me, and I thought I could overcome it by watching the characters’ relationship grow. But unfortunately that’s exactly what ended up turning me off from the story. The characters.

I didn’t like Tristan. That’s right, I didn’t like Tristan. I am all about angsty, conflicted, flawed MCs; I love watching their growth and the transformation they go through to find their happiness and be worthy of love. I don’t feel like Tristan transformed at all. I mean, on paper, yes, he went through all the right actions but the transformation didn’t feel deep enough for me, I could see him resorting back to his don’t give a shit, see ya later attitude in the future. Even worse, I found some of his behaviour bordering on abusive; there’s a fine line between being jealousy and being overbearing and he was definitely on the wrong side of that line for a lot of this book. I felt like he bullied her into a lot of decisions and she just let him.

Which brings me to Mandy. Again, she just didn’t hook me enough. I wasn’t rooting for her. In fact most of the time I was kind of annoyed that she was such a pushover and let him treat her badly without repercussions. I could have forgiven it in the beginning of the book, before she came into her own and realized her potential and all that good stuff. But again, I feel as if she didn’t change in the end; she was still trying to do everything in a way that pleased him and put her own dreams aside for it.

I really wanted to like this one, and overall I don’t think it was horrible. It had a great premise and some pretty decent writing, I just wish those MCs had hooked me in like I thought they would.

Book Review: The King

The KingJ.R. Ward’s # 1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood continues as a royal bloodline is compromised by a grave threat to the throne.

Long live the King…

After turning his back on the throne for centuries, Wrath, son of Wrath, finally assumed his father’s mantle–with the help of his beloved mate. But the crown sets heavily on his head. As the war with the Lessening Society rages on, and the threat from the Band of Bastards truly hits home, he is forced to make choices that put everything–and everyone–at risk.

Beth Randall thought she knew what she was getting into when she mated the last pure blooded vampire on the planet: An easy ride was not it. But when she decides she wants a child, she’s unprepared for Wrath’s response–or the distance it creates between them.

The question is, will true love win out… or tortured legacy take over?

4.5 Stars

There was a time a few years ago that I was getting pretty sick of vampire novels. They were everywhere and they were mostly stale and unoriginal. But then I read the first JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, Dark Lover. I was instantly hooked. The worldbuilding was great, the idea completely original. It’s been a great love affair ever since; with its ups and downs, but mostly ups, along the way.

The King was definitely an up. I’ve always admired Beth and Wrath as characters, with all their baggage and complications, but I feel like they both really come into their own in this installment. Their struggles didn’t feel contrived like some of the other plot lines in the series have felt, in fact it felt like we’ve been building up to this point for a long time. I was glad to see them staying true to their characters as they struggled with both their personal issues and their royal duty, and it was refreshing to see a fictional couple work through their marital problems by talking things out. I feel like that doesn’t happen enough.

Of course, true to Ward’s style The King follows not only our main characters Wrath and Beth around but a host of secondary characters. I enjoy watching the world build and progress around the MC’s issues, so that when we move on to the next set of MCs there doesn’t have to be a whole lot of world and plot building…we can just pick up where we left off at the end of The King. Besides, this is how real life works; the world doesn’t stop spinning, other lives don’t keep from being lived just because these two characters are working on their HEA. So, that being said, let’s talk about the subplots.

Trez and Selena: I’m definitely intrigued. I’ve always liked the Shadows as characters and the setup seems to imply that when their book does come out it will be a great addition to the series. I like the ying/yang vibe we get from Trez and iAm, and their dynamic will be great to watch. I liked Selena, and am very interested in finding out about her secret. One thing I am worried about in this setup is the potential for iAm to step in and take Trez’s place in the H’sibe; it will be too close to Lover Enshrined and I don’t see how she can pull that off again.

Assail and Sola: I know I’m in the minority here, but I’m just not feeling this at all. I liked Assail very much as a character…until he decided that working with the lessers for his financial gain was okay. That’s what ruined him for me. On the other hand, I really like Sola. I like her badass attitude, and her vulnerability when it comes to family, I like that she’s not afraid to stand up for herself and I would have loved to see her get introduced to the BDB world. But, I don’t understand where this relationship can go. We’ve been told in no uncertain terms that she’s a human, and I don’t think there’s a plausible way to make her last as a viable mate to Assail…unless she stays human and they both accept that she will eventually die. If Ward decides to go this route, this storyline may be redeemable for me, but otherwise I don’t think I’ll ever warm up to Assail and Sola.

Xcor and Layla: I have always adored Layla. I have always adored Xcor. I am anxiously awaiting the day that these two finally have their own book. But…I am a little worried that X’cor is becoming too soft. It just feels a bit too much too soon for him to have a complete turn around in character and it almost feels like it’s been done to give the Brothers a chance to deal with everything else going on around them without having to worry about the BoB. I hope we get to see fierce, angry X’Cor again sometime soon because I definitely miss him and I don’t think he should disappear just because he’s in love. That being said, I do like the setup in terms of their romantic plot and am anxious to see what happens when Qhuinn and the Brothers find out how close Layla and Xcor have become.

There are a few other storylines brewing, but I’ll wait and see where they lead before I solidify my thoughts on them.

Overall I enjoyed The King and thought it was a great addition to the BDB series. I’m looking forward to the next installment (The Shadows) next year.

Review: Water Music

WaterMusicRivals, friends, lovers

Daniel and Dylan are the top swimmers in the world; Alex and Alí, the top tennis players. They play for God, country, family, and the need to escape their troubled pasts. In their quest to be the best, they also harbor a secret: Each is in love with his rival.

The four hit it off at the Summer Olympics in New York and reconnect on an island vacation that gives new meaning to doubles, round-robin, and preliminary heats. By then, the shifting professional fortunes of each couple have begun to signal a change in their personal relationships as well, one that will lead to new alliances and betrayal and engulf them in tragedy.

Told from their alternating viewpoints, Water Music is about power, jealousy, dominance, and submission. It’s about how the past informs the present and the future and how the choices made by nations, our families, and ourselves color our lives. Ultimately, it’s the story of how we come to accept those choices and learn to live with loss through love.

 

 

“It wasn’t about holding eternity in an hour. It was about holding it in the nanosecond that decency allowed before love slipped through your watery grasp.”

I’m not sure how to put into words everything that Water Music has made me feel. It was tragic and beautiful, frustrating and poignant. A reminder that life doesn’t always lead us where we expect it to and all we can control is our reaction to it. That no matter what happens we choose our reactions and our decision to be happy or not. That people aren’t good or bad, but an ever-changing mix of the two, and that strength is sometimes quiet and untouchable through life’s unending challenges.

The book follows the lives of rivals, lovers and friends in the course of their careers; their highs and lows, wins and losses in and out of competition. I enjoyed the way the story built slowly, giving us brief glimpses into the past until we had a full understanding of where the characters came from, their desires, dreams, hopes and fears. It was beautiful to see the past and present coming together to form a more coherent story, making us feel the emotions as the characters re-lived the moments. I truly didn’t foresee the twist at the end, even if all the foreshadowing was well laid out, and it elevated the story for me.

I have to admit that I was much more invested in two of the characters than I was the others. Now I wonder if that was purposely done. Here’s my brief overview on the four main characters (without giving too much away):

Dylan: He is truly the tragic hero in my opinion, and the strongest of the four, for having the courage to do what he believed was for the good of those he loved. Was he right in his choice? Probably not, but good intent is the downfall of the tragic hero.

Ali: Honourable and humble to the end, so self-contained and self-sufficient that I can only admire him for it.

Alex: Yes, truly ironic his story. And yet he gets it, in the end, and stoically accepts this.

Daniel: It was incredible to see Daniel’s struggle and to see where his actions originated from so that even if the actions were sometimes (often) hateful, we were still able to be (somewhat) sympathetic to his emotions and understand where they were coming from.

While it did get a little bit overly-wordy at points, and the editing could have been a little tighter, I think Water Music was an exceptional book and I will be looking for more work from this author in the future. I would recommend this to anyone who loves watching characters grow according to the changes in their lives. Characters who have real emotions that lead to real actions, even if they’re not always right and just.