Review: A Kiss for Solstice by Elizabeth Allyn-Dean

Trucking along with the Heaving Bosoms Reading Embrace we have A Kiss for Solstice by Elizabeth Allyn-Dean to fulfill the “HB Author” requirement! That’s right, this author is a member of the Heaving Bosoms listenership but I will write an unbiased review.

The plot is a little convoluted but let me do my best to get down to the nitty gritty. Zelda is a witch whose younger sister is being held hostage by their coven leader/evil stepmother who has Zelda use her unique necromancy gifts to do her bidding. One of the ways the coven leader makes money is by using the local werepack to do underground fighting. One night a human, Dax, wins and later stumbles into the girl who’s been taken hostage which seals his fate. He is killed by the werewolves and left for dead. Zelda brings him back to life, binding their souls in the process, and asks for his help in freeing her sister. Complicating this is his transformation into a werewolf and their hot, hot chemistry.

The book is written well. I felt that there was a lot of worldbuilding that could have been fleshed out a bit more because it was a little confusing to enter in media res. I didn’t feel anything with the sex scenes. They were hot but also because it’s a shorter story everything has to be turned up a bit hotter to cook quicker and I didn’t get the tension that usually makes a sex scene impactful for me. It was two hot people finding each other hot and having hot sex. Not a bad thing, not a thing that left much of an impression. The ending also felt a bit hurried and easy but again, short story, turn up the heat. I didn’t feel invested in the relationship but I’m also not a big paranormal reader so that may be impacting my interest or lack thereof.

If you like witch x werewolf pairings and good writing, this is a good bet for you!

Review: Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost

Trigger Warning: References to a suicide attempt, depictions of torture

It’s the Heaving Bosoms Reading Embrace time again folks!

The first category for the embrace is “Abs, Abs, Abs, Dick!” which I interpreted as finding a book where the hero on the cover is all abs and a hint ‘o dick (aka it fades away but you Know he is naked). To fulfill this category I read Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost.

This read reminded me of why I love doing embraces/challenges/setting reading goals. I would never in a thousand years have read a book that had Vlad Tepes as the hero if it hadn’t fit the embrace description so perfectly. Dracula by Bram Stoker is one of my favorite novels and I have a longstanding anger towards depictions of him as a romantic figure and went into this book just trying to keep the two works separate, a tactic aided by the author’s own acknowledgement of that work and the hero’s derision for it because of how incorrectly it describes him. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Leila, or “Frankie”, works with some sideshow performers with her death defying gymnast acts. Also, she has a massive scar running down her face and arm and can electrocute people with her right hand and see people’s worst sins/past/sometimes future when she touches them. She’s had this power (no pun intended) since she was a young teen and got electrocuted. It’s basically a superhero origin story except the superhero is more of a Rogue from X-Men superhero in that she can’t not hurt people and it’s made her lead a very sheltered life. She lives with a dwarf vampire named Marty who has been her surrogate father due to her estranged relationship with her biological father and the fact that he can handle her occasional, accidental shocks better than humans. Everything in Leila’s life goes along about as normal as it can when acting as a carny and living with a vampire when she is kidnapped by other, much meaner vampires. These vampires force her to help them locate Vlad and once he is in her life, he doesn’t leave. He saves her from the kidnappers, takes her back to his home, and they begin to work together to track down who is trying to kill him. He also informs her that there is a connection between them (a Sexy connection) and he is correct.

A lot of this could have gone very wrong for me and somehow it never went there.

Frost makes a point of referencing the character being in her mid-twenties so even though there is clearly an age difference between Leila and Vlad, it wasn’t as squicky for me as it is when it’s a teenager. Also, Vlad’s actions never read as him being an Alphahole. He’s just a very old, very powerful vampire who genuinely does not have a connection with his humanity for the most part. He has no problem torturing people and is thoroughly confused and annoyed by her anger over it. He never lays a hand on her but he also isn’t lovesick and swayed by her pleas to be less vicious. In fact he establishes from the start that the word please means nothing to him. And this could have meant he ignored consent but this vampire overlord is actually very much about consent and does not do anything the heroine isn’t clearly, verbally, enthusiastically on board with. He never glamors her to seduce her. Hell, he barely seduces her. By the time they do anything she’s already decided that it’s going to happen and she’s up for it.

I also appreciate how the author did her best to portray Vlad as clearly being more powerful but not taking away Leila’s power or agency in the process. Also, Vlad has as romantic past and has had ex-girlfriends and lovers and Leila doesn’t get weirdly jealous about it. Leila has no sexual history but that makes sense based on her power and Vlad does make a gross comment about her virginity being a special gift but it’s just one sentence, not a consistent theme which it can be in some books. Vlad remains Vlad throughout the novel. He never suddenly becomes a new or “better” person, he doesn’t really soften a ton, and he never says I love you. The two characters are clearly having feelings for each other but there isn’t some emotionally fraught confession. His actions show his feelings for her in small but important ways and often in ways she doesn’t realize until she reads his mind.

Another thing that could have gone wrong but was handled well is that the characters can read each other’s minds/communicate telepathically. This is actually helpful in many cases and neither character really tries to abuse this. Vlad can just do it and can’t really help it but Leila is taught a way to block out people reading her mind if she wants that privacy so again she is given some agency without taking away Vlad’s abilities.

The sex scenes were… ok. Not bad! There was some terminology that took me out of them like reference to his “hot honey” and mentions of fangs grazing parts of the body I am not comfortable grazing but they were well paced and well placed in the novel.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book and will be continuing the series after I get a bit more of the challenges under my belt. If you enjoy powerful but non-asshole vampire lords and powerful, processing-her-trauma heroines, you will probably enjoy this book.

Review: The Fairy Bride by Tess Mallory

This is the last Mallory work I’ll review here and it’s going to be quick because it was a novella. Mallory wrote The Fairy Bride with the intent to possibly go back and flesh it out to become a full length novel. At this point I don’t believe she’s done this but you can tell that she was writing something she loved when you read this story.

The prose is very reminiscent of a fanfic story you write in high school and that is not an insult. High school fanfic writers are as varied in talent as any grown up, published author. What they have that sometimes gets lost over time is a deep love of what they’re writing that translates from page to reader. Mallory is clearly dipping into a world that’s been on her mind for awhile and I really appreciated getting that sense from her which was nostalgic for me. Unfortunately, that’s about all I can say for the story.

It’s a simple tale of a fairy king who has to marry or his country will be invaded (there’s bloodline stuff involved in this) and there is a soulmate for him to find and once he does they will both be in love. He is sent to where his soulmate is and there she is, a human who is engaged to a dick of a man (a trend in Mallory’s writing). She ends up leaving him, she falls instantly in love with the fairy king as he does with her, and they thwart an evil plan to overthrow the kingdom and everything ends happily.

It don’t have any specific complaints here as I did in the last works by this author. It just didn’t grab me and I found some of the worldbuilding hurried and a bit complicated. If she did write this series I don’t think I’d read it simply because fairies aren’t typically my jam and how they are in this series isn’t bad but definitely doesn’t speak to me. If you enjoy fairies and felt things as a child while watching Thumbelina (and to be honest I did too but then Dmitri happened) you should give it a read. It’s not a huge time investment and it may spark the desire to go back to doing some fanfiction writing yourself.

Review: Remembering a Witch by Lauren Connolly

I was especially excited to get to this review because I know the author! Kind of! We both listen to Heaving Bosoms and are in the fan cult (which we had before MFM) and that’s how I heard about this book! You guys know that I love supporting self-publishing authors so here is another opportunity!

Remembering a Witch was the book I ultimately read for the Because Witches category of the Reading Embrace, after I disqualified Slouch Witch for that title. I’m so glad I did this. In the words of the author herself, “REMEMBERING A WITCH is a 16,000 word paranormal romance novelette perfect for people who like pumpkins, pit bulls, and professors with sexy ginger hair! This story is inspired by the autumn equinox and is just the thing to welcome in the colder seasons.”

Guess who loves all of those things?

*points at self*

Specific reasons I loved this include excellent pacing, likable characters, good sex, and a satisfying mystery and conclusion. It’s hard for me to share much because it is so short that I don’t want to spoil anything so those are the broad strokes. The synopsis does a better job selling you on this book than anything I could write, honestly. If you like those things, this book has those things. If you don’t like those things, you may still like it cuz it’s written well but also that’s ok and there are other books out there for you.

Review: Night of the Wolves by Shannon Drake

First things first – Night of the Wolves sounds like it should be a werewolf book but it is in fact a vampire hunting book. In its defense, the series is literally called “Vampire Hunters” but if you’re going to present yourself as a paranormal romance and put wolf in the title there are going to be hopes raised. Ok, now that’s out of the way.

This is a hybrid of books I rarely read: paranormal romance and western times romance. This is actually perhaps my first western romance book (though I don’t feel I’ll have had a good intro to the subgenre til I get a purely western romance under my belt) so there were a lot of things to complicate this reading for me. But let’s start with a synopsis.

Alexandra Gordon, the heroine, has visions that lead her back to her father’s home in Victory, Texas to hunt for his murderer. There she meets mysterious and sexy lawman Cody Fox, a veteran of the Civil War. Vampires attack, all is not what it seems, yadda yadda you get where this is going.

Folks, this book has Problems. First of all, the Native American characters are staggeringly stereotypical complete with feathers. I got real Tigerlily a la Peter Pan vibes from their portrayal in the book and it was squicky. Also the black caretaker of Alexandra’s place gives off a real “Mammy” archetype vibe in how she is written which was rough. Also rough is the discussion of the Civil War talking about how it was the most heinous thing ever and no one should ever get beyond their disagreements to that extent.

You know what’s worse than the Civil War?

Slavery.

No punchline, just facts.

I wasn’t invested in the romance but part of that was because I kept getting distracted looking for werewolves and wincing over the more problematic aspects of the book. Also it was published in 2009 so for those who may be believers in defending a book with Product of Its Time (I am not one of them – a post for another day), this book doesn’t get that pass either.

I kind of appreciated that vampires were (mostly) villains in the book because while I was an enthusiastic participant in the mid to late 00’s vampire craze, Dracula is one of my favorite books and I sometimes miss vampires being bad guys instead of just sexy sad people. In the end, I could have gone without reading this book and don’t intend to continue the series. It did make me want to read an example of a good western romance and a good paranormal romance, either combined or in separate genres, so if anyone has good recommendations please let me know!