The Captive Prince Trilogy by C. S. Pacat

These were incredibly captivating. I absolutely could not put down. I started reading these on vacation, and it was a great brain-break. I stayed up too late one night finishing the first book, I read the second on my first flight and waiting in an airport, and then the third on my flight home, halfway through as I got home, keeping me awake till three in the morning. When I woke up in the morning I was so happy to lie in my own bed with my cat and finish the series.

They’re basically ridiculous? They’re incredibly over the top, but it works. The basic premise is that there are these two countries that really don’t get along, and two princes from each country, and one is overthrown by his brother and given as a slave to the other, who doesn’t know that his good looking new slave is actually a prince from an enemy nation. That’s the start of it anyway, then so much else happens, but the whole power dynamics from that is present throughout.

That definitely isn’t for everyone, but it’s really well done. The world building felt incredibly solid. The political intrigue was compelling and made sense. The storytelling was suspenseful and well done.

But really, it’s all about the romance. There’s something so good about a story where you KNOW where it’s going, you KNOW they’re going to get there eventually, but first you have to suffer through SO MUCH unfulfilled sexual tension, SO MUCH heavy tense flirting, so much almost but not quite!!!! It’s painful in the best way, which makes the eventual resolution even better. Especially in a setup like this, where you know on some level it’s a bad idea, but also the right idea, it’s going to happen.

It was one of the most compelling thing I’ve read this summer, so painfully lushly romantic, with a very distinct point of view. The power dynamics are super interesting, and the feelings!!!! It was so much.

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Soulless by Gail Carriger

This was fun but not very much. It’s a regency romance novel with vampires and werewolves and evil steampunk science. It’s a wonderful mishmash of very enjoyable tropes. The love story swept me up, and it’s steamy in the right places. The heroine is a strong woman who doesn’t need a man, but falls in love anyway. It subverts some romance novel conventions, leans into others. I had a great time with this book. I’m probably going to read all the sequels. It is also in no way essential.

If it sounds like your jam you’re going to have a blast. It’s the sort of book I imagine would be very fun to read floating on a lake. I can’t imagine myself rereading this, or even spending a lot of time thinking about it, but it’s a solid romp.

The Viscount’s Prey by Julia Leijon

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write this up. It’s a smutty little thing, and this is a blog that my mother has been linked to. So? That’s weird?

But I also don’t have anything to say about the sex or romance. It was fine, whatever.

What struck me about The Viscount’s Prey is how it was a note perfect Dracula pastice. The tone was entirely in line with what I remember of the novel, the changes made to make it into a m/m romance were well chosen and didn’t interrupt the style.

Dracula is one of those great stories that’s multiplied in a thousand ways. I read it several years ago for school, and I didn’t love it, but I loved how I could see its influence everywhere. This is Nosferatu, and the overblown 90s movie, and the first episode of season five of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Simpsons parodies, and a million other things. This story is soaked into our cultural DNA. The Viscount’s Prey isn’t much, but it’s a worthy edition to the collection of weird crap playing with the Dracula story.

Him by Sarina Bowen and Ellie Kennedy

I had issues with this book, but it really worked for me as a romance novel. If I was in a mood to be critical there’s a lot I could dig into about the way bisexuality is presented. An outsider’s homophobia comes across as a hurried plot point in a weird way. There’s a half-acknowledged but still uncool misogyny of one the main gay character. Some of the stuff about how major league hockey contracts work is just… not correct, or at least not realistic, and there wasn’t a compelling plot reason for changing things. This book has issues.

But I still really enjoyed it? It was well paced, the characters had strong voices, and their feelings made sense. It works. The sex scenes were well placed and compelling. The ending was satisfying. What more are you looking for in a romance novel? It isn’t great, but it’s a pleasant afternoon’s reading.

 

Greyback Bears Series by T. C. Joyce

Do you ever do things that you know you don’t really want to, and you don’t know why you’re doing it, and you know you could stop, there isn’t any reason to keep going, but you aren’t going to stop, even if you aren’t really enjoying yourself, and don’t understand what’s going on.

Yeah. I read all of the Greyback Bears books by T.C. Joyce. They aren’t very good. At all.

I have a buddy who’s in the romance novel business, and a while ago she was talking about werebears, which I just thought was an amazing concept, and I had to go exploring.

The first one is kind of fantastic trash? I like the lead because she reminds me of my best friend in a really weird way. The later ones getting increasingly muddled and repetitive. The third book had a moment where the heroine’s internal response to seeing her bear paramour’s dick is thinking “Holy maccaroni,” which may be a high point of the series in terms of sheer absurdity.

I can’t recommend these on any level, they’re terrible, but… They’re also something special? I read a lot, but nothing quite like this before.

Werewolves of Brooklyn by Brad Vance

Okay, I’m not going to get into the politics of this fairly mediocre gay romance novel… I’m really not… I shouldn’t… It doesn’t deserve my time… But…

So, the basic premise is that there’s this guy named Darien, and he’s an orphan, and a butcher — like an old school butcher who works with his hands. He’s lonely and disconnected from the world at the start of the book, but then he takes an ayahuasca trip, and it expands his horizons. He becomes super dominant and gets supernatural abilities, which is good, because he needs to be powerful if he’s going to stop this old library from being torn down and replaced with condos.

Which gets us to the politics of the piece. There’s a lot of appreciation of craftsmen and the working class, and strong anti-gentrification rhetoric, but also??? It feels weird??? The appreciation is almost fetishistic, which like, there are worse things to kink on, but also, working class people are people, and the whole thing seems a little bit sketch. I don’t think I actually disagree with the big political ideas, I’m just baffled by how they’re presented here. This book makes some weird choices.

There’s a whole section set in and after the Civil War, which seems to be very historically accurate, very dour, and also very unnecessary? A lot of things never get explained, which could be setting up a sequel, but a better book would have made it feel smoother.

The central romance is pretty flat — more about animal attraction than any sort of compelling reason for them to get together. Darien is a list of cliches instead of a three dimensional character, pleasant enough but flat.

I did like some of the stuff in the world building. The werewolves here aren’t bitten or changed in a traditional sense, they have some sort of otherworldly experience and begin transforming. My sXe princples think it’s pretty boring that otherworldly experience seems only to serve as stand it for drug trip, but it is a different take on weres, and there’s something to it. They also have an aristocratic court system that is intriguing, but never explained. It doesn’t really fit with the power to the worker! rhetoric that the book’s so gung ho about, but it’s kind of fun.

It’s on kindle unlimited if you feel like checking it out, but it’s definitely skippable.