Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

Dragon Bound (Elder Races #1)

Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After all the disappointing book surprises I had recently, this book was such a pleasant surprise I think I added one extra star just for that. I also have just read the whole book in two sittings in a couple of hours, so my judgment maybe clouded.
I’d also like to point out that the pleasantness of the surprise might have been enhanced by rather low expectations, and the low expectations came from the fact that there was something about the cover and the short description of this book that turned me away a couple of times when I considered this book previously. (In fact, I also decided to go and buy the UK edition with a different cover separately after I finished reading this.)
The best thing about this book is the humor. I do feel like the I had to turn off a part of my mind that would question the solidity of the setting, because if I questioned if Dragos is really believable in his role of a being who has been around since the beginning of time, I don’t think I would like the answer. But then, I feel like it doesn’t even matter. The humor makes this story just un-serious enough to accept these things and flow with it. It still has a solid urban fantasy world and a story. It’s not heavy, it’s not angsty, it’s has just enough thrill in places, but what it does best is the lovable sarcastic characters and dialogs that just kept me turning pages until I got through the whole book in less than 6 hours.
While it’s still an adult ‘romance’ book with its bedroom scenes, there was something about its mood that reminded me of good old fantasy worlds I loved reading so much in my childhood, and I’m very grateful to it for that.

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A Strange Hymn by Laura Thalassa

A Strange Hymn (The Bargainer, #2)

A Strange Hymn by Laura Thalassa

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book 2, and my verdict remains mostly the same.
The world is interesting and well-developed, the hero is all what you’d want from a comfort book, plenty of elements that speak of a book made for mental self-satisfaction (dream-like landscapes, too-convenient magic, overprotective mate, etc), but the problem is that we are forced to experience it through the prism of a just barely tolerable heroine.
On first pages I almost believed that together with the wings and scales the heroine might finally start growing some brains. As in, being in the place where her manipulative powers don’t work, and after suffering through a pretty terrible ordeal, I hoped it would shake some sense into her.
Alas, the main character and her manner remains the single most annoying feature of this book, which is hard to ignore when the book is in the 1st-person pov. And still inspires a lot of pity towards the Bargainer who saddled himself with her.
She still refuses to be pulled down from her high horse, bristling on everything and everyone. She still calls the ‘love of her life’ bastards, asshole, creep; they are having a ‘romantic moment’ and she calls him ‘slippery f**ker’ in her head, and finds a reason to be angry and hateful towards him at least 3 times every chapter. Even when essentially every thing he does is for her.
She bitches at him when he tries to make her like her new appearance, she bitches at him when he teaches her to use her wings and fly, she bitches when he wakes her up with coffee in bed and makes her breakfast, she bitches when he tries to teach her to defend herself so she wouldn’t feel like a victim anymore (something she should have been begging him to do, and jump at every opportunity… and don’t even get me started on the shockingly naive and simplistic essence of the said ‘training’ where they just take swords and swing at each other), she finds a reason to bitch at every second word he says to her (or do little mean things like cover his painting with black paint because she’s a little shit who doesn’t care about anything but her darling self). She bitches, and bitches, and bitches non-stop about almost everything, and it makes reading this book unfortunately tiring, where it could have actually been pleasant.
Another issue is the writing that tends to go okay-bad-okay-bad again sometimes 3-4 times on a single page. It is also mostly tied to the manner in which the main character expresses herself, ranging from ‘I might hate the process, but I kind of dig the results. I also am coming to love the sweet pair of blades strapped to my hips. … I feel like a bad bitch tonight, which I totally dig.’ to her dialogs with her best friend which mostly made me want to wash their mouths with a toilet brush.
She sounds immature, uncultured, and often disgusting.
I’m not saying she should be a gentle damsel in distress. But some respect, culture, and dignity would be nice.
…. But then, about a dozen or so of chapters before the end, something suddenly changes, and the book snaps 90 degrees: the presence of super-powerful constantly-swearing best friend almost gets forgotten, while the main character suddenly actually begins to act selfless and uncharacteristically brave. Which would be a welcome change, if the whole story also didn’t suddenly change into a constant anxiety dump, with enemies hiding at every corner and main characters remaining completely blind to them even though everything that is about to happen is a bit too clear to the reader (which, again, is a difficult dissonance to wrap your head about when you read from a 1st-person pov, but see and understand more than the said protagonists deigns to).
This book is made up from two very different parts. Unfortunately, both of them have some elements I dislike quite a lot, also entirely different. But I also still like enough about this story to continue reading anyway… The question is how much angst will we have to deal with in book 3, and will I feel like it is worth it or not.

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Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt

Wicked Intentions (Maiden Lane, #1)

Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first started reading this, I was genuinely impressed.
And my impression was that I have picked up a well-written ‘hunting Jack the Ripper’ type novel sprinkled with some romance as a bonus.
When the balance of “Georgian era mystery/porny content” shifted from 70/30 that I imagined it would be, to about 20/80, I felt genuine disappointment.
Still, I think this is a very well-written book. The writing and world-building are extensive, detailed, and both real and imaginative. The writing is very very solid. I just could do without a few of the bedroom scenes. Especially the ‘I will heal you with my touch’ kind.
As someone who actually found herself empathizing with the character of Caire because of some shared characteristics, the turn of ‘he felt the pain because he wasn’t loved and it will be all healed by love’ turn felt disappointing.
I’m interested in continuing to read these series, at least for a while, but I feel like I’ll have to do so fighting against the disgust towards covers and titles… I feel like these novels were done a big disservice with these choices.

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Bodyguard by Jennifer Ashley

Bodyguard (Shifters Unbound, #2.5)

Bodyguard by Jennifer Ashley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now here we have an actual comfort book of romance variety.
Although, admittedly, rather short and swift. Problems in this book get solved swiftly, main characters fall in love very swiftly, bad guys get dead very swiftly, and so on. Which, likely, is what this book needs. It’s a romance focused on themes of protection, saving people, and especially children, from shitty circumstance, unconditional care, trust. There’s a Papa Bear and a heroine who can think for herself, take care of herself, and doesn’t take shit from anyone. The writing is on the simpler side, but not cringy (with the exception for the head-hopping… it’s bad), and the romance-related scenes don’t actually feel ridiculous.

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Laird of the Mist by Paula Quinn

Laird of the Mist (MacGregors, #1)

Laird of the Mist by Paula Quinn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Would be a good comfort book of romance variety if it wasn’t for rather unfortunate quality of writing, at times bordering on cringy, and undeveloped/missed story opportunities that stand out like thorns. Also, very unfortunate cover design that is likely scare people off. If you can ignore the writing and cover problems, then you might discover some interesting side characters and a heroine who seems to know what she wants and listens to people around her for a change. I think the main thing about this book is that it avoids a lot of angst by featuring people who are actually willing to think for themselves and change their mind about things, without remaining stubbornly blind for too long.

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Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh

Slave to Sensation (Psy-Changeling, #1)

Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another one of my ‘I needed more books and wasn’t really paying attention to what I was buying’ episodes. When I skimmed the description, I ended up under impression that, despite of its title, this would be more of a contemporary fantasy thriller set in universe divided onto three major races–humans, shifters, and psy; and involve unusual alliances and hunting serial killers. With some romance as a bonus.
However, the first impression I got when I started reading is that this was going to be a book where characters think about sex 98% of time, and then somehow maybe find time to do something else in between…like hunt a serial killer, or build a housing project (which everyone seemed to completely forget about less than half way through), or hack the psy network. I don’t know if it got better or I just got used to it, but it did stop bothering me eventually.
What didn’t stop bothering me is the less than stellar quality of writing… Constant head-hopping, poor wording choices, same thoughts repeated over and over again, and unfortunate ‘romance’ related narratives that mostly enticed a lot of eye rolling. After first 6 or so chapters I felt that if I had to see words ‘sensual’ or ‘predator’ one more time my eyes would bleed.
Also, the rather disgusting habit of the main male character (and some other characters) to call the main female character pet names. ‘Kitten’ I can live with, but all the ‘darlings’ and ‘sweetcheecks’ or whatever it was… More than a bit disturbing, really.
All of the ‘mysteries’ were a bit too obvious. The main characters identity, the serial killer’s identity, the answers to many of their problems, all of it was amazingly easy to predict half way through the book. Though, to be honest, right now I appreciate the simple answers and non-angst happy ending more than I would have things being more complicated.
All in all, this book has a lot of flaws you could pick up on. But there are also some interesting ideas and story elements that maybe just enough to ignore the other uncomfortable stuff, and I personally am currently grateful to any book that actually deals with its angst and puts emphasis on such ideas as loyalty, honor, love.
P.S. No Russian would ever call their daughter Nikita, only western people do. Some research before assuming would be nice.

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Me: Buys a tone of books that have ‘romance’ as one of the genres every time there’s an anxiety attack (seeking ‘comfort books’ like cheeseburgers).

Also me: Gets genuinely surprised and disappointed when plot/romance balance exceeds(on the romance side) 70/30 and characters can’t stop thinking about sex… (like I thought I was buying something else).

I also complain about cheesy covers and titles. But then keep buying fantasy, sci-fi, and historical romance books anyway. And stuff them into my brain like gauze into bleeding wound.