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#RomBkLove Day 1: Gateway Romance



My Gateway Romances were Deanna Raybourn's  Silent in the Grave, Nalini Singh's  Slave to Sensation and yes, as heretical as it is to say it among some romance purists, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.

Before I found romance I read YA, Fantasy and Urban Fantasy for the romantic arcs. It wasn't till I became a romance reader that I recognized the pattern.

As I was finishing up Grad School and had time to read again I read Twilight at a friend's urging and later read her copy of 50SoG because she had read it and wanted someone to talk to about it. There was certainly more sex on the page than I had ever previously encountered with the possible exception of the Jean Auel books I had to sneak read in middle school. I read a ton of erotica and books with black covers and inanimate objects on the covers immediately afterwards looking for something that would capture my attention in the same way. Most of it it didn't click with me, even though they were certainly hot but I kept trying looking for that X-factor that had caught my attention. In the midst of all them I did find a couple of Charlotte Stein books that told me I was on the right track.

At about the same time I became aware of Felicia Day's Vaginal Fantasy Book club's. I was drawn to the virtual bookclub because identified with Day and the rest of the VF crew as fellow geek girls,  women who had read a ton of SF/Fantasy and comics like I did.  For someone who never seriously considered reading romance, their enjoyment of genre romance novels was a powerful recommendation. I watched the first half-dozen episodes and  started checking out the books. The first two I read on Day's recommendation were Silent in the Grave and Slave to Sensation. They were immediately accessible to me. I had been a Austen and cozy mystery fan, so mystery series with a strong romantic core was in someways very familiar and it started opening the genre to me.  Slave to Sensation with its much more overt romantic arc was a bigger leap but Singh's fascinating world building and fast-moving and suspenseful action plot, eased me in.

I immediately read the rest of both those series and as I read them I realized the thing I was looking for was strong emotional conflicts.  Thankfully I had access to the NYPL and my local libraries eBook collections and they both had a wide variety of romance eBooks available. They had everything from Harlequins, e-rom, PNR and a gazillion regency romances. When I ran out of Psy-Changelings to read about I ended up trying Stephanie Laurens's Cynster books.  The bossy, over-protective heroes in those books had a lot in common with the Singh's changelings. They even worked as a pack, and they were essentially invulnerable. They made it possible for me to transition from binge-reading PNR, which I was still sort of classifying in my head as sexy SF to reading "real" traditional Historical Romances of which my library had hundreds. 

I eventually admitted to myself that I that I was a romance reader, not just a Mystery, Fantasy and SF reader crossing over Once I did I started exploring the RITA award winners, and seeking out romance blogs for recommendations.  It has been about 5 and half years and my reading preferences have evolved as I was introduced to new authors, tropes and trends but I will always have a fondness in my heart for the books that drew me into the romance genre.

#RomBkLove Prompts

I am so incredibly thankful to everyone who provided feedback, prompt suggestions and encouragement.  I look forward to a great month of romance-related conversations. Feel free to respond to these prompts however you want starting on May 1st. It can be a tweet, a blog post, an IG post, just add the #RomBkLove hashtag.   You can also comment with a link to your blog and I will post a round-up of everyone participating during the first week. I just want to hear from you and fill my timeline with romance-related chatter!

#RomBkLove (3)

The Prompts:

1: Gateway Romance
2: Tropes, Tropes, Tropes
3: Meet Cute 
4: Secondary Characters
5: Romantic Elements
6: Groveling
7: Diverse Romance
8: Heroes & Heroines
9: Category Romance
10: Pets
11: Historical
12: Most Read or Reread
13: Contemporaries
14: Covers
15: Bicker and Banter
16: Dark Moment
17: Dukes, Dukes, Dukes
18: Not a Duke in sight
19: Romantic Suspense
20: Unforgettable Line
21: Auto-buy
22: Adaptation
23: Romancelandia
24: All in a day's work
25: Series Love
26: PNR, SFR, Fantasy
27: Romance Icons
28: Novellas/Shorts
29: Friendships
30: Old School/Classics
31: HEAs


Binge reading in the blanket fort: Dragon Actually & the Dragon Kin series by G.A. Aiken

{F13714B9-21D4-47F2-AD89-20533F15C6AF}Img100Reading has always been a refuge for me. Romance the lifesaver I clung to when my family hit a particularly rough patch.  Our country and maybe the whole world is in one such rough patch right now. As a reader I’ve retreated to series and familiar authors. To world or words that felt familiar and comforting.

In the days leading up to the inauguration I binge read G.A. Aiken’s Dragon Kin books. I love Shelly Laurenston/ G.A. Aiken’s absolutely bonkers, and bloodthirsty heroines and her arrogant and frequently befuddled heroes under whatever pen name she is writing under.

In Dragon Actually, the heroine, Annwyl the Bloody is the bastard daughter of tyrant, leading a rebellion against her even more vicious brother. Fearghus The Destroyer, is dragon sick and tired of people, not to mention his large and annoying family, who stumbles upon Annwyl as she cuts down soldiers who had ambushed her. Instead of eating her,  Fearghus instead uses his magics and that off his sister’s to heal Annwyl.  I loved the friendship & hesitant romance that grows between Annywl and Fearghus.  

Laurenston/Aiken’s sense of the ridiculous is spot on as she has Annwyl and Ferghus end up in a unlikely love-lust triangle, as Annwyl slowly falls in love with the Dragon while lusting for the Knight, her trainer, not knowing he is Fearghus in his human form. But that storyline is not simply for laughs and hotness, but it helps flesh out Annwyl’s guarded personality. She feels safe with the Dragon, precisely because he is a dragon and not a man. With the Knight, she can explore her desires and wants in a way she has never been able to before, surrounded by either her brother’s villainy and cruelty or her soldier’s admiration and loyalty.

I eventually blew through the rest of the Dragon Kin stories.  I was caught up in the multigenerational saga of that unfolded in the series, and the variety of relationships and courtships Aiken she depicted. I love the friendships that unfold over the series as Annwyl reigns, as their family expands in unexpected ways and they are pulled in new and dangerous directions. 
This was a fun series that I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Beyond Surrender by Kit Rocha & Moonshadow by Thea Harrison

Make Love not War goes the 60’s refrain but that is not a choice the lovers in these two books can make. War is raging and they can’t retreat or escape it. Their choice is to make love and war.

51VepsJ+oeL._SY346_Beyond Surrender by Kit Rocha is the final book in their dystopian epic series about a band of free-loving bootlegging gangsters that were push too far and too long and refuse to roll-over and die.  They tried just carving a little piece of the world for themselves but the world wouldn’t leave them alone, so they had to make their world just a bit bigger.

Nessa in Beyond Surrender is everyone’s little sister, most especially Dallas’ . She has been with him since before there were any other O’kanes. Her skill at making Liquor is the heart of his operation. And no one is more aware of that than Nessa.  Life has taught her that only two kinds of men ever make a move on her, thoughtless lunks who don’t know enough to be scared of the O’kanes  and manipulative liars who see her as asset to be seduced away. Nessa has been waiting a long time to find someone who will hold her attention and who is worth her time. Ryder terrifies her. He is everything she wants, and she has absolutely no idea what he really wants.

Ryder doesn't either, he has been training and preparing for this war his whole life. The only person that has made him want to consider what comes after is Nessa.

I enjoyed the romance, and I love the dynamics of Nessa and Ryder’s relationship as they both try to figure out what they want and how much they want it. They are deliciously awkward at times and undeniably sexy. However the main draw for me in this book was seeing how Bree and Donna were going to wrap up this war, and series, keeping up the tension and stakes and not destroy a bunch of HEA’s in the process.  I was sucker punched at points and  just generally impressed at how they were able to really show the cost of this war on the O’kanes while not betraying romance expectations.  There was a cost and many tears and scars because to this war.  There are many storylines I am eager to follow into their new Gideon’s Riders series but I was also satisfied that I had read something that hung together as cohesive if expansive story.  The O’kanes and their struggle have always connected with me deeply and I think this was a good way to end their story. ( I received ARC of Beyond Surrender from Kit Rocha).

Beyond Surrender ended a series but  Moonshadow opens one.

Moonshadow_Thea_Harrison_Moonshadow_HiRes_1575x2475-652x1024Moonshadow by Thea Harrison is the start of a new series in the Elder Races world.

 I took refuge in Thea Harrison’s Elder Races novels during the run up to the election. They were a fantastic escape, worth the hefty price tag. However unlike my experience  with the Beyond books, where I always wanted to see how things connected and check in with Dallas and Lex, I was way less interested in the political intrigue arcs and the central couple of Dragos and Pia. I wanted less of the meta story and more romance. In Moonshadow, Thea Harrison stays in the same world and mythos of her Elder Races novels but goes in more romance-heavy direction  (and much more reasonable price point).

Some things were very familiar, Nikolas, a soldier for Oberon’s Dark Court is powerful, dangerous and unreasonably attracted to the heroine. Despite being overmatched physically by the dark commanding hero, the heroine,  Sophie Ross,  tolerates zero BS and challenges the hero at every turn. There is tons of delicious bickering, some hate sex and lots of stomping around and trying to ignore inconvenient feelings.

Sophie is at a major crossroads in her life. She is recovering from a terrifying encounter that has left her unable to face returning to her old life as Witch-consultant with the LAPD, when she is offered a piece of her past and given chance to inherit an impregnable magical house, if she can break into it. On her way there she rescues a hurt creature that is not quite what he seems, bringing her to Nikolas’s attention. He and his ever-dwindling fighting brothers has been stranded and on the run for centuries and have almost forgotten what peace feels like. Sophie and her magical house, built on the site of their greatest defeat offers a glimmer of hope and her un-orthodox magical practices an edge they have never had before. Sophie and Nikolas must learn to fight side by side, even when it terrifies them. In the end  Sophie and Nikolas have to make a choice to treasure love despite inconvenient timing and their own doubts about their capacity love or give up before they have even gotten started.

I am hopeful of this new direction.  The romance still got  a bit lost in all the intense action of the last third of the book  but it was restored to its proper focus in the closing chapters. I am eager to spend more time in this corner of the Elder Races world. ( I received a ARC of Moonshadow from Thea Harrision via NetGalley).

Returning from a Reviewing Hiatus

My last review for my blog was May 10, when I hit a stress bubble in my offline life and had to let something go for my sanity.  I kept on reading and writing 140 character reviews on twitter but I didn't have any time to just think and write.  I am on vacation right now in Maunabo, and for the first time in months actually felt like I could coherently write something again.

I have a  review for the fantastic Gambled Away anthology  almost ready to go but I am waiting to finish one last novella in it before I hit publish.

I'm  stilling writing my reviews for RT so I am planning on linking to those in my next review.  RT is going through some major changes so I have drastically cut down the number of books I read for them as I wait through the transition to see if it still works for me to review for them.  

Although the blog has been hiatus and I've been turning down ARCs for most of the last month  I have been reading a ton.

I indulged in Kindle Unlimited subscription and  have read dozens of books on KU, mostly bikers, shifters and aliens and have dug through my TBR to read books I had forgotten I bought.  I have been playing around on a bookish app called Litsy ( a cross between Instagram and Goodreads for booklovers)

D1GwYJosOcS._SL250_FMpng_I read all the Ice Planet Barbarians books by Ruby Dixon, which had been repeatedly recommended to me by Michelle Mills and Elisabeth Lane (their book choices rarely overlap so for both of them to recommend them, meant I had to try them eventually).

 My favorite of them all was Barbarian Alien.  A traumatized Ice Barbarians kidnaps one of the human women he resonates with (they have a symbiote that alter their body to survive the harsh environment of the planet and it that identifies their mate, and amps up the mating drive) to ensure no one takes her from him.  Despite the whole alien abduction, symbiote driven mating drive the books are really good about consent.  The tension in the books is about having the character's feelings for each other catch up to their bodies ramped up lust, while overcoming language and cultural barriers.  Over all the heroes tend to be very protective and possessive but what I loved about Raahosh comes to understand Liz's need to be independent and learn to provide for herself in this new planet.  Ruby Dixon's worldbuilding was pretty great, and I was amused by how subtlety she tweeked our understanding of how resonance and mating work in the books to provide different conflicts and tensions for later couples.

After reading all the Ice Planet Books I read Ruby Dixon's Shift that collect five bear shifter novellas. These novellas were very cute and fun.  Bear shifters find their inconveniently human mates and respond in a variety of ways. 

I also tried Ruby Dixon's Bedlam Butcher series. I enjoyed Off Limits about the unlucky-sister of the Biker club's president, Lucky and Solo, the one partner-less biker in a band of bikers who are somewhat obsessed with the buddy system. When Lucky is targeted by a gang of white supremacists, Solo rescues her and together they bait the other gang into exposing themselves.  I enjoyed the suspense plot in the later books, but ended up skimming them because I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to sink into the later books that are all menage. 

No KU binge can be complete without trying Alexa Riley again.  I had read and hated Mechanic and Coach, but I discovered that I very much enjoyed their Fairy Tale Shifter books.  All the elements that make me recoil from their contemporaries, work for me in their paranormals.  They write over-the-top uncomplicated books full of insta-love, possessive mates and mating urges, and I find I can only enjoy that when reading about shifters or aliens. B1qu-MZLx7S._SL250_FMpng_

I quite enjoyed Suzanne Wright's Phoenix Pack and Mercury Pack shifter books. The books had very interesting political pack dynamics and I enjoyed how blood thirsty and powerful the women in the series were. The romances were fun, with a lot emotional push and pull but I laughed and laughed when I realized that all the books had anal sex scenes because although almost all the characters had previous sexual partners they had saved anal sex for their true mate.  What I didn't enjoy was the high-mortality rate for the female exes and how often sexual rivalry drove the suspense conflict.

I'll be back to ARC reviewing in the next few weeks!


NK Jemisin's The Fifth Season (Broken Earth bk1)

612FnTYaDAL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I've been in a fantasy mood recently so I ventured out of the relatively safe world of genre romance to read the first book in N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth series. The Fifth Season was in turns heartbreaking, jaw-dropping and thanks to its immaculate pacing, absolutely gripping. I was listening to the audiobook and it was hard to turn off the car and stop listening each morning and evening when my car rides ended. Yesterday I listened to the last fours hours all in one go because I could not stop.

The Stillness is a massive, extremely geologically active continent dotted with large and small communities, remnants of a once mighty empire whose lore on how survive the not-infrequent periods devastating climate change, known as the seasons, provide a foundation for its common culture. 

In the Stillness, the Orogenes are people whose inborn ability to manipulate geological forces makes them an object of fear to the general population. To be an unsanctioned, unregistered Orogene is to be a Raga, a monster, bearing the curse of Father Earth, facing a death sentence if discovered.  The alternative is to be a Fulcrum trained Orogene, raised from childhood into a regime of control and suppression, only allowed to express their extraordinary powers at the Fulcrum's command and under its strict guardianship.  

The Fifth Season is the extremely personal story of the making of continent wide-cataclysm in the Stillness. We enter the story through Essun, a raga, whose family has fallen apart days before the Cataclysm takes place.  When her  husband discovers his young son's orogenic powers, he kills him and leaves town with their daughter. Essun is desperately trying to track down her murderous husband and rescue their daughter. We also follow Syenite and Damaya. Syenite is an ambitious fulcrum-trained orogene who is increasingly angry and chafing under the Fulcrum's insidious control over every part of her life. Her new partner and mentor is Alabaster, quite possibly the most powerful oregene under Fulcrum control. Damaya is a young girl, rescued from her parents and brought to the Fulcrum for training. The Fulcrum is both a safe place and a dangerous one for Damaya, as she learns to control her powers. The story jumps back & forth through time till all the stories converge in moments of breathtaking clarity where what was left unexplained in one story is suddenly central and important in another. Together the story is one of immense heartbreak, grief, survival and transformation and it is only getting started.

The novel was flawlessly intersectional, deeply aware of the overlapping layers of race, class, and gender that play into the way people move in the world and respond to it. The world itself is richly developed & vibrantly diverse. The story centers on POC, including LGBTQ characters that are fully realized. It was just so amazingly refreshing to read, even if it took me through the emotional ringer, because the story is so deeply meaningful. I will be eager awaiting the release of The Obelisk Gate in August. 


A Queer Trade by K. J. Charles

K.J. Charles has built a fascinating magical Victorian world through her numerous Charm of Magpies related novels.  I'm not completely caught up on the main Charm of Magpie books, but I couldn't resist jumping ahead to read this one because is features victorian era black hero.  A Queer Trade is the prequel to Rag and Bone which was released last week and I am currently in the middle of reading.

Crispin Tredarloe's master dies while he is away visiting family and returns to discover his master's heir have started emptying the house and have disposed of many magical papers. He is desperately searching for the paper waste man that hauled away his masters' spells before they can harm someone and expose him. This particularly urgent because Crispin Tredarloe isn't simply a magician's apprentice but an illegal warlock. If the blood magic is exposed and traced back to him, his life might be forfeit.

Ned Hall's trade might be unusual trading in paper, recycling people's old letters, and discarded notes into wrapping and packing, but it is honest work, and its freed him destitution after his family cast him out for being gay. His attraction to Crispin is quickly tested by Crispin's casual snobbishness and likely insanity.

I love how Charles's is aware of  and then layers various impediments and conflicts into Ned and Crispin's relationship, race and class differences on one end, and then give them a shared understanding of familial rejection.  I look forward to reading more about these two.

TBR Challenge review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (narrated by Kyle McCarley)

17910048This month's TBR Challenge theme is We Love Short Shorts! (category romance, short stories, novella etc.)

My #TBRChallenge book is pretty much the exact opposite of short and sweet. I read/listened to the Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. The hardcover was 446 pages and the excellent audiobook 16 1/2 hours long.  I've had it in my TBR for about a year.   Although I had hear a lot positive buzz for this book I remained very ignorant about the plot. I had not idea where the book the was going for most of the time I was reading.  

The Goblin Emperor is the story of Maia, the youngest, almost-forgotten ill-favored half-goblin son of the Elvish Emperor. When the Emperor and his three older sons are killed in an airship accident, Maia is summoned from the remote corner of the empire he had been stashed in with his abusive guardian after his mother died. The story was not at all what I expected, as it is decidedly low on action and adventure. The narrative is introspective taking it is sweet-time building up to a climax and the resolution was quiet and subtle.  

Maia is disruption personified, his 1/2 goblin heritage, his experience with marginalization and his lack of familiarity with the ways things are usually handled makes him open to unconventional solutions and sympathetic to those who are most commonly marginalized in that world. Overwhelmed, unprepared & isolated, Maia draws on the principles his mother instilled in him and the instincts he honed learning to dodge his abuser to learn to negotiate the court and untangle its many intrigues and plots in order to become a worthy ruler and surround himself by capable and trustworthy people. The Deep POV was exhausting at times, and I wished we had the opportunity to see more of the life and spaces inhabited by the people Maia champions.  I resented how little we saw women in the first 2/3 of the book even though there are good narrative reasons for it.

The world-building is intricate and immersive but occasionally info-dumpy. I loved that language, and I am incredibly thankful for the audiobook narration for providing me with the correct and melodious pronunciations for the long made-up words and titles that recur throughout the novel. Some of the words still keep resurfacing in my mind like mini earworms days after I finished reading and listening to the book (Michen'theileian...Alcethmeret...Untheileneuse'meire) .  

I found the world incredibly interesting and I would love to see more of it. I was particularly intrigued by the mentions of Maia's unconventional Goblin aunts and I would love to read more books set in this world, as I have feel I have invested a lot of time getting to know its culture, religion and language. I felt like Addison was setting up for a larger-wider story and I hope that promise is fulfilled at some point, hopefully with a queer, poor, or female protagonist, whose world is wider thanks to Maia's efforts and rule.


Marked in the Flesh by Anne Bishop (The Others, Book #4) Early Review

22062202Meg Corbyn,  Simon Wolfguard and the rest of the ensemble cast that make up the Lakeside Courtyard community and its connected settlements return in Marked in the Flesh as they try to figure out how save humanity from extinction as the HFL (The Human First and Last ) Movement's heinous attacks on the Others captures the interest of the Elders, the more primal and powerful beings in Thasia.

Meg and Simon's relationship is certainly on the back burner through this novel. Meg and Simon spend most of the novel involved in separate plots. Meg's primary focus is on being the Trailblazer, and working to find way to keep herself and the other Cassandra Sangue from cutting themselves into insanity and death. Simon and the Police Pack are working to try to mitigate the damage being done by the HFL to Human-Others relationships and preparing for the inevitable backlash from the Elders.  His focus is the survival of those humans he has come to care for and planning for a life afterwards.  While the novel does close with yet another step forward in intimacy between Meg and Simon, it just served to emphasize how little time they have spent together during the novel.

The novel's main theme seemed to be communication and isolation. Everyone in this novels is constantly scrambling to email and call each other in order to share prophesies, veiled warnings and urgent alarms.  A significant part of the novel's plot is communicated via emails, speech excerpts or newspaper clippings.  There is also a lot of miscommunication, misinterpretations. and intentional obfuscation.  In the end however everyone clearly receives the message, and Meg figures out how to best help the Cassandra Sangue communicate their own. Despite the darkness and fear near the end of the novel there is a sense that at least the Cassandra Sangue will have a potentially brighter future.

While Marked in the Flesh is fourth book of a five book series, I could have easily confused it with a final book. A lot of storylines seem to be awfully close to their conclusions, while a few new mysteries were raised in the final chapters it seems to me that the final book will feel more like an extended epilogue as it deals with the aftermath of the world-shaking events in this volume.

I was not as emotionally invested in this book as I was in the others since Meg and Simon where not as involved but it was still compelling and I will be back for the concluding story.


I received a review copy of Marked in the Flesh from ROC/Berkley Publishing Group.  Marked in the Flesh is scheduled to be released  March 8, 2016.

Joint Review: Entreat Me & Radiance by Grace Draven

Ana: Growing up I read a lot of Fantasy & Science Fiction but it has been years since I’ve read a romance-driven Fantasy novel. About a month ago I invited Elisabeth Lane of “Cooking Up Romance” to read a Grace Draven novel with me.  Due to some miscommunication (I failed to specify which Grace Draven novel I meant) we ended up reading two Grace Draven novels.  We read Radiance and Entreat Me. 

RadianceCover-216x300Radiance is the first book in a new Fantasy Romance series set in a world where magical Elder Races and upstart Human nations are in competition for land and resources. In order to secure an important treaty the Kai, a magical and nocturnal people whose power is in decline agree to marriage between one of their princes and a noblewoman from Gaur, one of the human kingdoms.  Despite finding each other physically repugnant Brishen & Ildiko, find first companionship and then love against a backdrop of political and diplomatic intrigue.


Entreat-Me_medEntreat Me is rich and surprising retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story.  Ballard was ambitious land-obsessed warlord, who foils his betrothed’s elopement with a rival, earning his wife’s everlasting enmity and curse on his lands and son.  Louvaen is young widow dedicated to protecting her father and beautiful younger sister Cinnia  from an unscrupulous trader who covets.  When Cinnia runs away with Gavin, her newest suitor & Ballard’s son, she pursues them to ensure Cinnia is not going to end up in a worst situation. What she finds when she reaches Ketach Tor is both better and worst than she could have imagined.  It is a story of sacrifice & choice.

Elisabeth: Ha! I’m not sure you failed to specify which book we were supposed to be reading together. I think I might have just been confused. Wouldn’t be the first time. I definitely liked one better than the other though, which is unusual for me. I tend to either like or dislike authors’ works wholesale, but I had very mixed reactions to these two books.

Ana: ooh, I am eager to find out which you liked more.  Elisabeth do you have a preference about which novel we discuss first?

Elisabeth: Can we can start with Radiance?

Ana: I really wanted to read Radiance because I had seen lots of talk about it on Twitter in the last few months.  I was intrigued by the idea of a cross-species romance.  I really enjoyed reading the Last Hour of Gann last year and was looking for something similar.  What did you think of it?

Elisabeth: I loved that the cross-species romance dynamic in the book. The descriptions of humans from an outside perspective made me laugh several times. Unfortunately, that was kind of the highlight for me. There wasn’t a whole lot else to it. Though it seems like the entire series is going to follow this one couple and their conflicts with the outside world so we may get increased action and depth as the series progresses. What did you think?

Ana: I am not usually a marriage of convenience person, but surprisingly as marriage of convenience romance it really worked for me, but I agree that we didn’t get enough development of the larger fantasy plot. I liked their growth as couple, but I wanted more action/interaction with the major players of that world.  It really felt like a setup book.

Elisabeth: Yes. I read a lot of fantasy and it strikes me that there are conventions that fantasy readers accept that romance readers might not and vice versa. I mean, the idea of a 900 page book isn’t really all that daunting to a fantasy reader, but a romance reader might balk. I really found myself wishing this had been a single book instead of a series spread between three books. The pacing--and like you say--the action was really concentrated in like the last 50 pages.

Ana: There was so much going on then!  I felt I lost track of some of it in my rush to read to the end. I hadn’t realized it was book one of a series when I started reading it.

Elisabeth: Right. It didn’t have a cliffhanger exactly, but it was very clearly not the end of the story. Brishen and Ildiko were clearly a happy, safe couple at the end. But the epilogue set up what seemed to be a totally separate, larger plot that is barely hinted at in this book.

Ana: Yes, I think as a romance reader I would have been pretty satisfied with it as it was. The Epilogue recentered the conflict somewhere else.  Up to that point, I think I expected the 2nd book to feature a different couple. (my romance expectations once again!).

Elisabeth: Definitely. I expected us to move on to [Brishen’s second-in-command] Anhuset and [Brishen’s neighbor] Serovek’s romance in the second book. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. So that’s what we thought could have used some improvement. What did you like about it?

Ana: We did that backwards a bit!  I really liked Ildiko and Brishen’s initial meeting and how that set the tone for their romance. They make a commitment to good humor, honesty and loyalty.  I really liked how despite outward appearances they both have similar life outlooks. They are both trying so hard to make things work.

Elisabeth: The conflict between them is a very quiet one to be sure. I like that they make this very adult decision to be civil to each other (in their amusingly insulting way). The one remaining obstacle seemed to be their attraction to each other. And that was a nice slow burn, which I always really enjoy. After all, they’re complete strangers with little in common. It makes sense that it would take them a while to warm up to one another.

Ana: It really felt that it was a story about two people learning about each other’s needs and wants in a somewhat sedate way.  I was frankly surprised how quickly we left the Court.

Elisabeth: Yes, the pacing felt off. And there were some nominal editing errors as well. Honestly, I enjoyed this book, but not as much as the other one we read, Entreat Me.

Ana: Yes, let’s talk about Entreat Me!  You read this first right?  You love Beauty and the Beast retellings, and this is one.

Elisabeth: I do. I’m kind of obsessed really.

Ana:  What did you like about it?

Elisabeth: This book just really worked for me from start to finish. The first time we met Louvaen, I could tell that she was going to be my kind of heroine. She’s not terribly pretty, but she’s smart, dedicated to her family and fairly ruthless. I just respected everything about her and couldn’t wait to see what kind of hero she’d be paired with.

Ana: I really liked her too. I particularly liked that she is a rare romance widow who just loved her first husband.  She wasn’t abused or mistreated by him.  He was a good man, but he is dead.  I am always a big fan of heroes and heroines who have prior positive relationships.

Elisabeth: I also loved that her previous relationship left her in a totally sex positive place. Her marital experience was just entirely good and she didn’t have any shame about that.

Ana: I loved that she could feel that way and still be zealous guardian of her sister.  I like practical smart heroines and she is certainly one.  The story though is really about both sisters.  What did you think of Cinnia?

Elisabeth: I loved Cinnia just as much as Louvaen. I was prepared to find her the bratty, helpless, beautiful younger sister and I loved that she defied the fairytale stereotype. She’s not quite as fearsome as Louvaen, but just because she’s pretty, that doesn’t mean she’s dependent and unintelligent.

Ana: I really liked that Draven had both sisters be aware of the double edged blade that incredible beauty is.  It is both an asset and a curse for Cinnia and that plays into Louvaen’s feelings of responsibility for her.

Elisabeth: So what did you think of the heroes?

Ana: haha, I love a dark tortured lover, so I loved Ballard. I loved his dark backstory and the fact that he was a pretty horrible ruthless guy back in the day.  He valued land over people, and paid for it quite dramatically.  His son Gavin I felt was the least developed character in the book.  I liked his gallantness, but I don’t feel we got to know him as well as we did everyone else including Ambrose and Magda. [Ballard’s sorcerer and cook, respectively]. 

Elisabeth: Yes, despite the fact that he’s a full-grown adult, Gavin functioned as a bit of plot moppet. He was there to be tortured for his father and be the gorgeous suitor for Cinnia. But that didn’t really bother me. There was more than enough going on with the other characters.

Ana:  Yes, plot moppet is about right. It is not a huge deal, just felt liked a bit of missed opportunity.  I really liked that we had all the flashbacks to Ballard’s first wife and everything that led to the curse but I wished we had a few flashbacks to Ballard and Gavin’s life together. The love Ballard had for him was so absolute despite all the reasons he could have had for hating him.

Elisabeth: That love and devotion to family really provides a point of commonality between Ballard and Louvaen too. Both of them have sacrificed for the people they love. Though Ballard has been at it just a wee bit longer and has the wisdom and experience to guide Louvaen in that regard. I always enjoy in a fantasy/paranormal/etc. setting when one character is dramatically older than another (like hundreds or thousands of years) and they actually act like it. I get frustrated when ancient beings seem not to have learned ANYTHING in all that intervening time.

Ana: Yes, I loved that.  I loved that Magda, Ambrose and Ballard had that going for them. Even if they have been confined in the castle for so much of that time, they still have a great pool of life experience to drawn on.   I also loved the theme of lost parents, bad parents & replacement parents in the story. There was a richness to the depictions.  It just wasn’t one kind of lost parent.  Louvaen lost her mother as a baby, and tries to reject her magical heritage because it isn’t part of her day to day life, she loved Cinnia’s mother, and tries to take Cinnia’s mother’s place when she dies.  Unlike both her mothers she has to learn to let her “child” go. Ballard on the other hand becomes a father to a child his wife meant to deny to him.  He loves him, instead of destroying him like she meant for him to do. It is just much more complex than your usual step-mother/foster mother depictions.

Elisabeth: I’d definitely agree with that. In general, I thought there was really a delicious richness to the entire story. I kept feeling like, “Well, of COURSE that’s what the roses in all the Beauty and the Beast tales were there for” and “Yes, it makes sense that the Beast wouldn’t have just been a bad guy hanging out in the castle all by himself.” It really developed the Beauty and the Beast mythology in a new, interesting and unusual way, which I feel like it can be hard to do after centuries of telling and retelling that same basic story over and over in different ways.

Ana: Anything not work for you?

Elisabeth: Honestly? Not really. I was totally caught up in this story. I thought everything from the characterizations to the world-building to the plot was top notch. It’s one of the best things I’ve read this year.

Ana:  And I feel like we have only touched on a few things that were great about the book. There are just so many things going on relationally and plot wise.  I’m glad to have read it, because I probably wouldn’t have, dismissing it as “just another fairy-tale retelling”.

Elisabeth: And I’m very glad I read it before reading Radiance. Otherwise I might not have been so eager to try another book by Draven. It wasn’t that I hated Radiance, not at all. I just didn’t adore it the way I did Entreat Me.

Ana: For me, I came out of reading Radiance thinking, hey that was a pretty good marriage of convenience rom in a fantasy setting.  But Entreat Me showed me how rich her books can be, so I will be looking to read more books by Draven in the future.

Elisabeth: For sure. There is so little amazing Fantasy Romance out there that I think I’ll be sticking with the Wraith Kings series too just to see where it ends up.

Ana: I will too. Although I do hope we get something about  Anhuset and Serovek in the other books because I really liked them both.  

Elisabeth: I did too. And it will probably clarify some things thematically if a human and a Kai actually end up choosing each other instead of being forced upon on other at some point in the series. So any closing thoughts about either of these books?

Ana: I think we covered it!  Thanks for reading not just one book with me this month but two!

Elisabeth: Well, they were both languishing on my TBR pile so it’s not like it was a chore! I enjoyed it very much as always. Thanks for inviting me to chat with you about them!

If by any chance you are not reading Elisabeth Lane’s blog, do it. You will find thoughtful reviews and recipes inspired by romance novels she reads.  We are planning to do this again sometime in the summer, maybe something Historical languishing in our TBRs.


About Elisabeth

I live in the Washington, DC suburbs with my husband and our dog. I spent nearly 15 years in marketing before quitting to become a full-time housewife. I match the romance novels I read with a recipe from my personal archives or just make up a new one. I post a couple times a week, most often a book review with a recipe, but sometimes just my thoughts on a particular romance topic. I love to experiment in the kitchen, go ballroom dancing and spend lots of time in thrift stores looking for mid-century modern pottery to add to my collection.

Read more about me and my adventures pairing romance novels with food at