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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

'Pestilence' The Four Horsemen #1 by Laura Thalassa


From the BLURB:

They came to earth—Pestilence, War, Famine, Death—four horsemen riding their screaming steeds, racing to the corners of the world. Four horsemen with the power to destroy all of humanity. They came to earth, and they came to end us all. 

When Pestilence comes for Sara Burn’s town, one thing is certain: everyone she knows and loves is marked for death. Unless, of course, the angelic-looking horseman is stopped, which is exactly what Sara has in mind when she shoots the unholy beast off his steed.

Too bad no one told her Pestilence can’t be killed. 

Now the horseman, very much alive and very pissed off, has taken her prisoner, and he’s eager to make her suffer. Only, the longer she’s with him, the more uncertain she is about his true feelings towards her … and hers towards him. 

And now, well, Sara might still be able to save the world, but in order to do so, she'll have to sacrifice her heart in the process.

‘Pestilence’ is the first book in a new romance series (yes, you read that right) called ‘The Four Horsemen’ by author Laura Thalassa.

Ok. So. This is a new romance series with alternating heroes, who happen to be the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Death, Famine, War, and Conquest. Though in Thalassa’s series, ‘Conquest’ is interpreted as Pestilence, and he is the first hero we meet – or rather, anti-hero.

I kept seeing this book crop up on Goodreads, and I admit – I enjoyed the juxtaposition of a very romance-y front cover with the title PESTILENCE in shiny gold font. I probably would have shrugged it off as a grab in bad taste, but then I saw the Goodreads star-rating of a whopping 4.08 with 9,464 ratings. Um. WHAT?! I had to know what this was about.

And, reader – I was shocked to discover that I LOVED every moment of ‘Pestilence’. I particularly loved imagining the author at a party, when someone’s all like; “Oh, you’re a romance writer! And what’s your latest book called?” And she’s just like: *sips martini* “Pestilence.”

Our heroine in this first book is Sara Burns who is a fire-fighter (I know, I know) amongst her station buddies, she draws the short straw to stay behind in her township and take-out the riding Horseman whose presence will immediately lead to death for everyone in the vicinity. 

So, let’s get something straight; the disease Pestilence spreads simply by projecting and visiting a town is less STDs, and more air-born black plague and influenza viruses. There are boils and pustules though, and it’s definitely a gross death – but at least it’s hands-free, right?

Sara does indeed attempt to kill the Horseman, but then quickly realises that he’s immortal and unstoppable, and PISSED at the attempt on his life and that of his ‘loyal steed’. He decides to exact revenge on Sara by keeping her alive and forcing her to journey with him, spreading death and destruction.

Ok – fair warning – Pestilence and Sara’s first stages of romance are anything-but, and involve her trying to burn him alive and then him tying her to the back of his horse and dragging her along asphalt if she can no longer walk. Yeah. It’s gruesome. And a big part of me (much as I weirdly enjoyed this book?) always wanted them to circle back to the genesis of their courtship, like; “Remember when I went Salem Witch Trials on your ass and you nearly tore my arms off torturing me? Good times.”

But trust me – the relations do improve. Greatly. And this becomes a very hot and heavy romance, that I can really only think to liken to Briseis and Achilles in the atrocious 2004 mega-movie ‘Troy’, when Rose Byrne and Brad Pitt smouldered on the big-screen playing conqueror and conquest.

I mean. Never in my life did I think to read the line; “Standing on the other side of the room, his hair still dripping from the shower, is a very naked Pestilence,” would make me sit up and take notice but there you go. Thalassa makes it work, and kudos to her.

I will say the groundwork for the ‘Four Horsemen’ as a series with alternating heroes is a *little* weak, but mostly because Thalassa has left the Horsemen so open to interpretation … Sara and Pestilence do talk about God – but Pestilence confirms it’s an all-being type thing, and okay’s referring to God as a woman too. The Horsemen don’t have names so much as purposes, and it’s a little unclear how long they’ve been on earth for (I think they’ve been here all along, but only made their appearance known recently?) but Pestilence also implies that his “brothers” are currently sleeping … I don’t know. What I do know is; I am intrigued. And I am already calling it, that Death will probably be the Zsadist-esque (from ‘Black Dagger Brotherhood’ by J.R. Ward) most tortured bad boy and fan-favourite of the series.

I am only a little bummed that there’s no release date yet for second book ‘War’ – because, DAMN am I invested in this series now and I am 1000% committed to this erotic extravaganza of a biblical apocalypse.

5/5

Thursday, August 16, 2018

'It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time' by Kylie Scott


From the BLURB:

Returning home for her father’s wedding was never going to be easy for Adele. If being sent away at eighteen hadn’t been bad enough, the mess she left behind when she made a pass at her dad’s business partner sure was.

Fifteen years older than her, Pete had been her crush for as long as she could remember. But she’d misread the situation—confusing friendliness for undying love. Awkward. Add her father to the misunderstanding, and Pete had been left with a broken nose and a business on the edge of ruin. The man had to be just as glad as everyone else when she left town.

Seven years on, things are different. Adele is no longer a kid, but a fully grown adult more than capable of getting through the wedding and being polite. But all it takes is seeing him again to bring back all those old feelings.

Sometimes first loves are the truest.

‘It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time’ is the new contemporary stand-alone romance by Australian author Kylie Scott.

Ok. So. Remembering that one’s romantic trope preference should never be shamed – no matter how niche! (hey, if The Shape of Water can win an Oscar we can all start respecting individual romance hot-spots, no matter how fishy) I am fully willing to confess that I love and actively seek out May-December relationship stories, in which there's a big age gap between the partners. Specifically, I like older-male and younger-female romances of this trope.

I don’t know why. Mine is not to question, but to read and swoon. But I definitely think that if I were to interrogate, it probably has links back to how much paranormal romance ushered me into the romance genre overall – Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight was really the first romance series I fell head-over-heels for, and it led me to Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse: Southern Vampire and Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series – all of which feature supernatural immortal or very much older heroes, falling for human (regularly-aged) women. I mean; Edward Cullen looks 17-years-old but is actually 107-years-old. And if we go one further, I guess the archetype for this trope is a little ‘Beauty and the Beast’, which is possibly my favourite Disney movie of all time (animated, not Emma Watson warbling)... and I guess if we're drawing parallels between men becoming grumpier, hairier, reclusive beasts as they age - then the tropes line up? Kinda?

In any case; May-December romances are my jam, and I’ve found some really great ones – like in all-time favourite historical-romance, The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever by Julia Quinn which features a heroine in love with her best friend’s older brother, whom she has loved for most of her young life. I have also found some questionable stories, that I have still loved because I CAN’T HELP IT – like; The Surprise of his Life by Karen Keast, which is about a young woman in love with her father’s best friend and business partner, she confesses her adoration and is surprised to find it reciprocated. 

That last one is actually why I had an inkling that Kylie Scott’s latest stand-alone, May-December romance about a young woman who has been in love with her father’s employee-turned-friend-now-business-partner would be right up my alley. And I was not disappointed.

Adele (character named for one of my best friends, true story!) would visit her father in Queensland for six weeks of every year as a teen, since her parents’ divorce. Her father’s employee from the building business he runs was Pete, who’d hang out with young Adele – at first under the guise of scoring points and keeping barriers between him and the women he was casually dating (a kind of; ‘look, I’m such a nice guy minding the boss’ daughter, but also that means we shouldn’t do anything in front of her and OH, look at the time – isn’t it past when I should be ghosting you?’ type thing). But Pete and Adele ended up having a very buddy friendship, which inadvertently (on Pete’s behalf) led to Adele having a HUGE crush on him and telling him in the worst way possible at her 18th birthday party.

Fast-forward seven years and 25-year-old Adele is back in town for the first time since that terrible night, for her father’s wedding. She is begrudgingly staying with Pete on a purely platonic level because her father’s house is in full wedding-prep and storage mode … but old feelings resurface, and now that she’s of an age Pete is clearly in the hot-seat with admitting that he and Adele might have something.

I loved this book so much. I was 1000% right that it would be up my alley – and then some. This is Kylie Scott at her hottest, steamiest best – and it’s always a good sign when I finish a book, wishing there was another 100 or so pages. And hey, *maybe* this story could lend itself to a sequel? I’d definitely be interested to see what happened in the second-half of this evolving relationship, that’s for sure …

I maybe have a little qualm that it’s never precisely explained why Pete hung out with Adele so much as a teen, that they really did become best friends. It’s sort of explained as I mentioned, that he was using her to score points with the women he was seeing, but also as a barrier against anything more serious happening with them (he’d kind of take Adele on the ‘last dates’ with these women, so that it would remain purely platonic and hands-off so as to ease them into his dumping them).

I was waiting – horribly – for a moment when Pete admitted to 25-year-old Adele that he had totally fallen for her at age 18 (or – ick! – her17-year-old self back, in the day) but I shouldn’t have worried. This is Kylie Scott and she knows her shit around consent, and hot consent especially – not to mention power dynamics in romantic relationships. This moment NEVER comes, because Pete truly didn’t feel anything sexual or romantic towards Adele when she was a teenager. This part of their relationship totally evolves in the here and now, when she is of-age and has agency and you can feel the power dynamic has balanced between them. AMEN!

This book was hot, hot, hot and I loved every second of it. Brava, Kylie Scott – you have reinforced why this trope works for me, and why I still actively seek it out!

5/5

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

'Wicked and the Wallflower' The Bareknuckle Bastards #1 by Sarah MacLean


From the BLURB:

When Wicked Comes Calling...

When a mysterious stranger finds his way into her bedchamber and offers his help in landing a duke, Lady Felicity Faircloth agrees—on one condition. She's seen enough of the world to believe in passion, and won't accept a marriage without it.

The Wallflower Makes a Dangerous Bargain...

Bastard son of a duke and king of London's dark streets, Devil has spent a lifetime wielding power and seizing opportunity, and the spinster wallflower is everything he needs to exact a revenge years in the making. All he must do is turn the plain little mouse into an irresistible temptress, set his trap, and destroy his enemy.

For the Promise of Passion...

But there's nothing plain about Felicity Faircloth, who quickly decides she'd rather have Devil than another. Soon, Devil's carefully laid plans are in chaos, and he must choose between everything he's ever wanted...and the only thing he's ever desired. 

‘Wicked and the Wallflower’ is the first book in a new historical romance series – ‘The Bareknuckle Bastards’ – by bestselling US author, Sarah MacLean.

Sarah MacLean is already one of those ‘automatic-buy’ authors for me. Each one of her historical romance series has been better than the last, her books column in the Washington Post is *superb* as is her ongoing list of recommended romance reads. Not to mention her Twitter presence is *kisses fingertips*. But what really tipped this book over for me, from ‘automatically going to buy’ to ‘I NEED THIS BOOK IN MY LIFE’ was a column Sarah wrote back in 2017, ‘How Trump killed off my romantic lead.

She’s not talking about ‘Wicked and the Wallflower’, but rather ‘The Day of the Duchess’, final instalment in her ‘Scandal & Scoundrel’ series. But I do believe this revelation of writing romance (let alone historical-romance) in the era of Trump, has had wonderful ramifications on ‘The Bareknuckle Bastards’ series idea she’s now writing to – based around a family of illegitimate offspring, born to a cruel duke – who have spent their lives in the muck and mercy of the cutthroat Covent Garden, to become the “Kings” of that underworld realm of London.

But as MacLean wrote in that article, she no doubt had a dilemma while writing her first rough and tumble hero of the new series;

That hero? The one I’d lovingly crafted in that mold of masculinity that romance readers have loved for centuries? Sure, I had plans for him to see the promise of gender equality, but at that moment, I wanted him gone. This dude wasn’t just aggressively masculine. He was toxic. Indeed, I suspected he would have voted for Donald Trump. And I wanted nothing to do with him.

Suddenly, there was no promise that he would change. That hero — the one whom so many others in the genre have written for centuries, the one who grows into his awareness that everything is better with equality of partnership — he wasn’t enough. I wanted a hero who had that awareness from the start. I wanted an alpha feminist from Page 1.

Reader, I rewrote him.

I want to read that revelatory usurping of a historical-romance hero that I myself have loved to read.

And let me tell you, Sarah does not disappoint (does she ever?!) in ‘Wicked and the Wallflower’. This book is one that lifted me out of a months-long reading slump and dropped me right in the middle of a brilliant set-up to a fascinating new romance series.

There’s a level of ‘upstairs / downstairs’ to this tale, as the heroine – Felicity Faircloth – is desperate to be welcomed back as a sweetheart of the ton, until a rough and tumble Covent Garden ‘King’ named Devil makes her rethink everything she has ever craved.

The BANTER and dialogue in this book in particular is bar-none. But I also loved the little asides – a ‘proper’ heroine who is also mad for lock-picking (because she does not like doors being closed to her), and a dressing-down she gives the hero Devil when he dares suggest that how a woman dresses has a direct correlation to how inviting she is to men’s unwanted attentions. These little moments that tell me Sarah MacLean knows *exactly* where this historical-romance story sits in the modern-era, and she’s no intention of writing toxic clichés to appease any damn one.

I cannot wait for the next books in this series. The “underworld” of London that Sarah has set up – which isn’t the depraved, and gloomy setting we’ve read again and again – is beautiful in Felicity’s eyes, a place of freedom for women and made by the hard working-class men, women and children of London. It’s a place to thrive and one that welcomes change. It’s a wonderful fairground for these constrained heroines to break free, and their kind gentleman suitors to support them in their independence. 

5/5