Review of “How to Love Your Elf” (The Embraced #4, Embraced by Magic #1) by Kerrelyn Sparks

Sparks, Kerrelyn. How to Love Your Elf. New York: Kensington, 2020.

Paperback | $15.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1496730046 | 328 pages | Fantasy Romance

2.5 stars

How to Love Your Elf is the first Embraced title under a new publisher, hence the new series title, Embraced by Magic. But upon finishing it, I wondered whether the higher price point and longer wait due to contract stuff while Sparks made the transition were worth it, as this one felt phoned in.

It’s a running joke that lots of fantasy female characters tend to fall into stock types, and while I think this is greatly exaggerated, it is definitely the case for Sorcha. Her defining trait is that she’s supposedly fiery because she’s scarlet haired? Is it my imagination, or did the other girls have more substance than this?

And while the series premise does present a lot of opportunities for hidden identities, I felt the Woodsman wasn’t as well developed to make the reveal of his identity worth the suspense spent on it. And I never felt connected to him in the same way I did to Rupert, the hero of book two, who also has some revelations made about his identity.

I do enjoy the plot developing with the Chameleon, and the involvement of Gwen’s estranged birth mother, bent on revenge. Evil as they are, I wanted a book about them! The chapters from her perspective nearly saved the book for me.

This book isn’t horrible…I did get through it, and it was just a much down to Sparks’ writing style a the glimmers of a good plot. But it just doesn’t feel as good as the previous books, especially with the re-use of tropes that were done better before and characters tht don’t inspire much in the way of emotions. However, I am open to reading the next book, as Brody remains my favorite character, and there is some brief foreshadowing of how he has to end his affliction in the next book.

In short, this is a book I would recommend waiting to buy on sale or borrowing instead of buying at the list price. It does have its charms, and as always, this is just my opinion (and reviews do seem to be mixed on this one), so definitely keep all that in mind while making the decision.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2TGeuIE

Review of “Kingdom of Exiles” (The Beast Charmer #1) by Maxym M. Martineau

Martineau, Maxym. Kingdom of Exiles. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1492689386 | 438 pages | Fantasy Romance

3.5 stars

I heard conflicting things about Kingdom of Exiles, both that it’s incredibly good and that it has some problematic bi rep, and just general issues with the tropes (animal cruelty? falling for one’s assassin?) But I tried to go in with as few preconceived notions as possible, especially since some of those elements had worked for me before, and it’s pitched as “Assassin’s Creed meets Fantastic Beasts,” and this caught my attention enough that it was at least on my radar (I don’t know anything about Assassin’s Creed, but I am a huge Potterhead, issues with the Fantastic Beasts series’ arc and Rowling as a person, notwithstanding).

First, I must say, I find the world building delightful, particularly when it comes to establishing the “bestiary.” My favorite part of the book was the bit at the end which explained all of the creatures and what they do and how to tame them, which complements seeing some of them in action in the story. I definitely wish this was more of a highlight than a side thing to the romance elements, even though it is…well…a romance.

The romance was…ok, considering it starts off at a place that could be pretty problematic. It’s not my favorite of the few assassin-mark romances I’ve read, but it’s pretty good. It does devolve into pretty standard tropes of the genre that I don’t like, like Noc being the standard broody hero and Leena having to counterbalance that, but I did think him having a curse on his life that leads him to close himself off was at least more interesting a motivation than most have for being that way.

This book is a lot of fun, even if some of the parts it focuses on are underwhelming, and the bits that are the most interesting don’t play as much of a role as I would like. I think it is compelling enough to keep reading the series, to see how things work out with the curse. And I think, if you’re into paranormal or fantasy romance, especially some of the more tropey elements, then you should check this out if you haven’t.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2vE5qe5

Review of “Lord of the Last Heartbeat” (The Sacred Dark #1) by May Peterson

Peterson, May. Lord of the Last EHeartbeat. Toronto, Ontario: Carina Press/Harlequin, 2019.

eBook | $4.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1488025102 | 351 pages | Fantasy Romance

5 stars

I picked up Lord of the Last Heartbeat because I happen to follow May Peterson on Twitter, and she also recently withdrew this title from the RITAs in the midst of the ongoing RWA kerfuffle. And, although I didn’t plan it this way when I started it, I read it on her birthday, and was pleasantly surprised by the serendipity.

This is an excellent debut fantasy romance, with an incredibly sensual writing and a beautiful romance in the midst of darkness. The fantasy elements in particular are super interesting, with inclusion mythical creatures like sirens and witches. I really enjoyed the twist on Mio’s character being the siren son of a witch who wishes to stop being used to further her ends.

He finds a great romantic partner in Rhodry, a cursed moon-soul, and their developing relationship was at turns sweet, sometimes sensual, and occasionally quite dark. But the relationship at its core is one of acceptance, especially of Mio’s gender identity, and that facet in particular is wonderful to read, especially since it’s likely very personal to Peterson’s own journey.

This is a wonderful fantasy romance that hits all the right notes, and Peterson is a great rising talent who I can’t wait to read more from. I recommend this to to fantasy romance lovers, especially those looking for a new and more inclusive take on the genre.

Review of “Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon” (The Embraced #3) by Kerrelyn Sparks

Sparks, Kerrelyn. Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250108258 | 429 pages | Paranormal/Fantasy Romance

4 stars

Given the news that came out not too long ago about the change in publisher for the remainder of the Embraced series and the resulting delay in release till early 2020, I’m glad my habit of delaying books led me to put off reading Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon until now, just a tad bit closer to release date, although upon finishing, I now find myself unable to wait to return to the world of the series again, and can’t wait for it to be February already.

Because this book, like the prior books in the series, is nothing short of charming. There are some predictable plot elements, but they are executed in such a fun way, that I don’t mind that much. The only one that really bothered me was that Gwennore took that long to figure out who the dragon was. I mean, the promotional material makes it pretty obvious to readers, but given that she can communicate telepathically with the dragon, wouldn’t his voice give it away?

The romance also didn’t feel as compelling this time around, with it definitely being a case of insta-love, but I did find enjoy the characters on their own, particularly Silas. I loved getting a peek into his motivations as his secret connection to everything going on was slowly revealed, and he is one of those protective alpha males who I actually found easy to root for.fAnd Gwennore, in spite of the aforementioned faults(?), was a great heroine, as I enjoyed seeing how she came to develop the strength to help the people of Norveshka with her gifts, as well as learning the secrets of her origins.

This is a delightfully fun paranormal/fantasy romance, and as I said before, I can’t wait for more. I would recommend this to fans of paranormal (especially shifter) and/or fantasy romance.

Review of “Song of Blood and Stone” (Earthsinger Chronicles #1) by L. Penelope

Penelope, L. Song of Blood and Stone. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018. 

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250148070 | 372 pages | Fantasy Romance

4 starsin

L. Penelope is yet another author I discovered through a book group, and given that epic fantasy romance  set in other worlds for adults is incredibly hard to find aside from a handful authors, I was excited for this new addition. But while a lot of the fantasy and world elements were wonderful, I found the romance a bit “meh” at times.

I love the extensive sense of lore and legends associated with the world, from the illustrations included, like the map and chart, and the folktales that unfold at the beginning of each chapter, accompanied by a related illustration. I love how the geography of the world as depicted on the map has a deeper significance to the turmoil that is unfolding between Elsira and Lagrimar throughout the book, and the epic way Jasminda and Jack play roles in resolving this conflict. I also enjoyed the parts of the story relating to issues of racism that feel equally relevant to our lives in the real world as they do to the people of this fictional world.

However, despite a promising beginning, where Jasminda is the one who saves Jack, I found myself unhappy with the revelations that, without all the trappings, this was just another rich guy-poor girl romance, where she’s seen as nothing but a distraction by people of his world. And the way they get together in the end feels a little too much like a fairy tale, without any real substance to indicate to me why they belong together or whether things will last once the sparks inevitably fade. However, Jack and Jasminda as characters independent of each other are both compelling, Jasminda in particular with her connection to the lore of the Queen Who Sleeps. Jack, despite not fully winning me over, does however seem to have the best interests of his people at heart, and I can admire that he wants to do what is right, even though he did not expect to take on his position.

Review of “The Sea King” (Weathermages of Mystral #2) by C.L. Wilson

Wilson, C.L. The Sea King. New York: Avon Books, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-201898-4. Print List Price: $7.99.

5 stars

Apologies for not posting for almost a week. But between working on my novel for NanoWriMo and some of my school projects, as well as the fact that this book is a literal bug-cruncher, I fell behind on posting.

But this book was a page-turner, and well worth the wait (The Winter King was first published in 2014, I read it in 2016). And I daresay, this book is better than the first.

For one, there’s Dilys. I like that he proves he can be a strong hero, but also can wear his heart on his sleeve, something that I’m glad we’re seeing a bit more of in romance heroes. And while a lot of the story is serious, and even dark and somewhat disturbing in places, some aspects of his courtship with Gabriella, especially in the early days, when she rebuffs him are incredibly comical.

As for Gabriella, I can see why she might be hard to like for some, as she is prickly at first. But I found her arc very compelling, and I really enjoyed her journey to discovering who she really is, along with learning that she can have love in her life without fear of ending up like her father.

I would also like to commend Wilson for including diversity among prominent characters within her fantasy world. It is uncommon to see people of color in major roles in this genre, and while it’s easy to pass it off as being “pure fantasy,” or saying that because the story’s fictional realm is based on a European locale and time period, as has been the case with fantasy series like Game of ThronesWilson does something different by actually putting in the work to diversify her cast and the types of locales depicted.

Review of “So I Married a Sorcerer” (The Embraced #2) by Kerrelyn Sparks

Sparks, Kerrelyn. So I Married a Sorcerer. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1-250-10823-4. Print List Price: $7.99.

4.5 stars

Kerrelyn Sparks proved to be a great new discovery of mine with the first book in the Embraced series, How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days. And the second installment proves to be just as good as the first, with (literally) enchanting characters,  great world-building, and a rich plot.

Rupert and Brigitta are both compelling characters, and I like that Sparks takes the time to let develop the relationship between the two, so even though not a lot of time has actually passed, you actually feel connected to the characters and invested in their relationship as things become more intimate between them, and the stakes rise that could keep them apart.

Brody also remains a fun character, and his banter with Nevis at one point has me eagerly awaiting the possibility that either will receive their own book.

While I did like the way Brigitta’s brother Gunther changed by the end, I felt it would have been much better if the story was more focused on him as a the main villain. The reappearance of the villain from the end of the first book, while tying the series together, was too predictable this time around, and I hope he does not pop up at the last moment of every book in the series.

Review of “A Court of Thorns and Roses” (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1) by Sarah J. Maas

Maas, Sarah J. A Court of Thorns and Roses. New York: Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-1-61963-444-2. Hardcover List Price: $18.99. Paperback List Price: $10.99.

4.5 stars

I resisted reading this book for a while, due to my general lack of interest in overly hyped books, as well as because it was YA, so I had the incorrect assumption that it would be too simplistic. But after seeing a bunch of raves about it in OSRBC, also noting that it was more “new adult” than YA, I took the chance, and picked it up.

And I did not regret it. The world building is well done, and while I did not expect to enjoy the writing style, as Maas’ choice to write in the first person initially seemed to go against my belief that fantasies should all be told in third person (blame A Song of Ice and Fire and Lord of the Rings for giving me this expectation), but the first person works with the scope of the story, with many aspects of Prythian remaining unknown to Feyre until the end.

I was somewhat ambivalent about Feyre herself. I read a few reviews that talk about the dumb decisions she makes, but that didn’t bother me, with the small exception of the time when she sneaks out to investigate the Great Rite, despite being told not to, and we see one of the problematic moments that I had heard about prior to reading it, when Tamlin finds her while under the influence of the magic which amplifies his desire for her. I also found her general ignorance about things a bit off-putting. Maas did a good thing in trying to make the story her own, distancing it from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and taking inspiration primarily from the original tale in terms of family dynamics, but I had a hard time getting used to the fact that Feyre was illiterate, because Belle was such a book lover.

 

Review of “Crown of Crystal Flame” (Tairen Soul #5) by C.L. Wilson

Wilson, C.L. Crown of Crystal Flame. New York: Avon Books: 2010. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-201896-0. Print List Price: $7,99.

5 stars

It is rare that I go through a series and find almost nothing to disappoint me, but that was the case with this one. And this one is definitely a fitting conclusion to a wonderful series. While our heroes and their allies have been tested and tortured over the course of the series, with a few devastating losses, it’s satisfying to see the villains finally get their just deserts.

When starting the series, I did not expect to love, or even feel pity for Annoura, as she opposed the Fey at every turn. But my heart softened toward her a bit during the last book, when I saw how the thought of losing her husband would hurt her, and when it comes to pass, without him getting a chance to make peace with her, my heart ached. And the moment when she finally reads his letter to her might just be one of the sweetest moments of the entire series.

 

Review of “Queen of Song and Souls” (Tairen Soul #4) by C.L. Wilson

Wilson, C.L. Queen of Song and Souls. 2009. New York: Avon Books, 2010. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-202299-8. Print List Price: $7.99.

5 stars

It’s very rare for me to close a book feeling shocked, mostly due to the fact that despite most the claim that romance isn’t formulaic, the promise of a happy ending for the main characters prevents disappointment.

But as this is the first romance series I have invested in where the HEA between the central couple is not won at the end of a single book, and carries over the entire series, along with dealing with a number of connected subplots, I found myself being taken off guard when this book ended by concluding the “Romeo and Juliet” subplot first set up back in Lady of Light and Shadows with a fittingly tragic ending that left me breathless as I finished reading. When Wilson said in an interview about these books that she “broke all the rules,” she was not kidding!

And as much as I adored spending more time in the Fading Lands and Eld in the previous book, I enjoyed returning to Celieria and seeing how the political situation is worsening there.  I find the story much more interesting when the focus is just as much on the dichotomy between the mortal world and the realms of magic, as it is on that between the Fey and Eld.