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Book Review: Army of the Cursed, by Karim Soliman

I accepted a copy of Karim Soliman‘s Army of the Cursed for review, as part of Love Book Tours book tour.
army of the crused
Everybody knew the Cursed were coming.
Nobody knew how to defeat them.

The Goranians thought they were ready to face demons in battle. But when the foretold War of the Last Day begins, one fact becomes clear: the doom of Gorania is just a matter of time. Now its fate rests in the hands of a hapless trio.

By joining the mages’ guild, Leila cedes her title as the Crown Princess of Murase. But as she struggles with her lack of talent, the Army of the Cursed approaches her country. Leila will have to decide if she is ready to protect her loved ones, or she should abandon them and run for her life.

Nardine, the Crown Princess of Bermania, hears a rumor that her long-gone father was so close to finding a weapon against the immortal demons. While she investigates what has happened to his unfinished work, a rebellion threatens to tear apart her kingdom.

Far in the harsh northern lands of Skandivia, Halgrim starts a perilous journey to claim a birthright he has been denied because of a lie. If his journey goes according to plan, nothing will stand between him and his ultimate prize. Nothing, except the Army of the Cursed.

Can the three unite and put aside their differences before it is too late? The entire human race is already on the brink of extinction.

my review

I’m of two minds when it comes to this book. I enjoyed it. Never once while reading it did I feel like giving up, despite it being on the long side. The writing is quite good 99% of the time. I liked the characters. I liked the different types of interplay between the teen characters and the adults. I appreciate that this is a big world with many different cultures. And I liked the way the opposing armies both thought themself blessed and the other evil. Perspective matters. But I also had several complaints.

For one, I think the book is longer than need be. This is complicated by there being too many POV characters that the books cycles through; some of them given very little attention. This meant that sometimes I would come around to new character or back around to a character not seen for a while and be like, “Wait, who is this again?” But it also felt like characters just got dropped on occasion. Leila was notably ignored during any battle scene, for example (and this despite the fact that her knowledge in chemistry could have been quite useful). All of Halgrim’s family were often forgotten about for lengthy periods of time, etc.

I said the writing was good 99% of the time. That one percent is Soliman’s occasional tenancy to drop anachronisticly modern sounding phrases into the narrative or dialogue. It jarred me every time.

Lastly, almost all of the book’s action is during battles and, though they were well written, they got redundant after a while. Speaking of battles, as an aside—not even as a complaint, just as an observation—I have a comment on the cover. I like it. I’m guessing the girl is meant to be Nardine, since she is the princess most trained in martial arts. But not once in the entire book does a female set foot on a battlefield with the intent to engage. Not even Nardine. Several times queens are present overlooking a battle and a female mage or two lobs magic from afar, but not once does a female character actually fight among the soldiers. Which feels notable if you are going to have one trained to do so AND on the cover as if she is doing just that.

Actually, I think I have a comment on the blurb too (and this may be a bit spoilerish). It states, “…the doom of Gorania is just a matter of time. Now its fate rests in the hands of a hapless trio.” But that’s 100% not true of this book. I think it’s probably going to be true of this series. But until the the end of this book, it’s their parents who have all the agency and fight the foe. For the course of this book, the fate of the human race isn’t in the hands of the trio in the sense the blurb suggests.

All in all, however, I was more pleased than not. I’d probably pick up the second book to see where the series goes.

army of the cursed photo

Other Reviews:

Army of the Cursed by Karim Soliman

Army of the Cursed Review



Book Review: Wicked Savage Wolves, by Daniela Romero

I accepted a copy of Daniela RomeroWicked Savage Wolves as part of its blog tour, hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. The book has also been featured over on Sadie’s Spotlight a couple times. You can find author details and the schedule for this particular tour here.

Wicked Savage Wolves 1-3

Three full-length books in one from USA Today Bestselling Author Daniela Romero

The wolves of Hellbound High are more beast than man. They’re savage, sinful, and everything a girl with a good head on her shoulders is told to avoid.

But, to Isabella, Jo, and Meiying, they’re so much more than they seem.
They’re the boys with the power to break their hearts but put them back together again.
If they decide to.
They’re the ones who make them suffer, make them bleed, but can also make their hearts soar to new heights.

The heir, the bad boy, the brother’s best friend.
They’re three grave decisions Isabella, Jo, and Meiying are on the verge of making.
And faced with the consequences of their decision, they’ll realize that a chance at love means risking it all.
Their health, their happiness, and most important, their hearts.

And in the end, will it be worth it?

***This is a dark, paranormal bully romance. Proceed with caution. You won’t
find a magical school filled with your future besties. At Hellbound High, life
is dangerous, cutthroat, and only the strong survive. Wicked Savage Wolves
includes 3 stories, each featuring a different M/F couple. ***

my review

I have so much to say, some general and some specific. I’ll start with the fact that these books were originally written as contemporary romance and later re-written with the addition of paranormal elements for PNR readers. I don’t know how I feel about this—no, that’s not true. That’s like someone asking if you like a food they’ve offered you and you say it’s “interesting,” instead of that you don’t like it.

I don’t like seeing books written into various versions. When I read a book, I want to read The Book, not a version of the book. I don’t want to be left wondering if I’d have liked another version better or worse than the one I read. It creates an uncertainty that I do not desire. I feel the same way about abridged books or authors that publish PG and spicy versions of the same book. THIS IS 100% A ME THING. But I’m putting it here because where else would I get to say it? I’d have been happier not to have known, honestly.

Next, well, we just have to talk about the realities of Bully Romances. Like Dub-Con, or a lot of Dark Mafia or Mars Needs Women books (where women are basically just kidnapped) it’s problematic as hell. You have to accept that the plot-line will likely be along the lines of “He’s attracted to her, so he hurts her. Somewhere along the way there’s a precipitating event and he doesn’t like the consequences of his own actions and is forced to grow as a person in order to earn her forgiveness.” But the whole thing is gendered as hell and almost unavoidably predicated on her being hurt and then being the bigger, forgiving person.

But like Dub-con and such, a reader has to be willing to accept that, yes, this would be reprehensible in real life. But within the safe confines of fiction (especially romantic fiction that guarantees a happy ending) it is possible to set the realities of toxic behavior aside and explore the play of power and control, as well as any other element an author chooses to incorporate. And there is a place for this in the romance genre.

Now, about the individual books…

Wicked Wolves and Tangled Truths photoWicked Wolves & Tangled Truths:

At the broadest level I enjoyed this a lot. I liked Isa as a character. One would have a hard time saying they liked Rafe, but he was a sexy alpha a-hole lead. And I didn’t feel like the shift from bully to romantic partner was too rushed. There was enough growth between them for it not to feel too artificial. Plus, I very much appreciate that there wasn’t just a blooming lust to love relationship. Isa formed strong platonic relationships too. (Though it might have been nice to see a few females in there.) I also really liked that both characters were Latinx and the importance familiar, cultural food is given in the story.

I did have trouble with their ages. They’re supposed to be 17-year-old high school students. But they all seemed to have easy access to alcohol (even being served by adults at times), are covered in tattoos, and have some fairly explicit (and practiced), on-page sex. So, they felt older than they should have for me. This wasn’t a big deal, but it did pull me out of the story a bit. Similarly, I found myself frequently pausing to notice how similar this paranormal world and the language used to describe it is to some other series I’ve read—Ilona Andrews‘ stuff especially.

More importantly for me, if I never ever have to read another book where all the women not in the heroine’s immediate circle (of which there is one, who is the heroine of a future book in the series) are represented and treated as slutty trash (little more than sentient fleshlights) I will be a far happier reader. There are some seriously gross messages about the value (or lack of value) of sexually available women built into it. Add in the aspect of gleefully hurting each other over the attention of the men who callously treat them as disposable commodities and I start to want to burn things to the ground (especially when this is written by female authors).

I acknowledge that in the context of exploring power dynamics there is unavoidably an aspect of resource guarding involved in this trope. But I feel like too often it’s used more as an easy, pitting women against women in the way we’ve all been subtly taught to never trust (or value) each other than in any sort of thoughtful exploration or subversion of the patriarchy’s favorite trick. (It’s the whole, ‘divided they fall,’ right?)  So, can this cliche just go die a quiet, grisly death somewhere where I never ever have to see it again? Please!

This isn’t so much a critique of this book or series, since this is such a common element of contemporaneously written romances, as it is a general plea to the universe. But I do feel that this particular trope was especially heavy here and I, I don’t think, used subversively in any manner.

Despite these latter complaints, I found this well written and worth reading. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Savage Wolves and Dangerous Deals photoSavage Wolves & Dangerous Deals:

This second review will be short than the first, simply by virtue of “ditto.” A lot of what was true in book one is true in book two as well, and I don’t see any reason to repeat it all. Jordy is a different sort of alpha a-hole than Rafe was and my complaints on the treatment of women are reduced by at least a third. Rafe, after all, has found his forever mate—his one woman worthy of being treated with respect—and Jordy is chasing his. But much of the rest is still true.

Despite all that, I think this is a stronger book. I was pleasantly surprised when, early on, it took an unexpected turn into something significantly more interesting that the blurb let on. (I won’t spoil it though.) Jo and Jordy are characters with a lot on their individual plates, each with their own additional baggage. The writing is clean and easy to read. I enjoyed the cultural characteristics coloring the narrative, and I like how the plot wrapped up.

I did find that explicit, on page sex involving a 16-year-old is my personal ick limit. I suppose everyone reading the book won’t be old enough to be the characters’ mother. But I found that, for me personally, though I don’t mind knowing teens have sex (of course they do), I felt all sorts of skeevy reading a hot sex scene from a 16-year-old’s point of view. Nope. I’m not saying it shouldn’t have been written, just that it hit my personal perv limit.

All in all, I liked this more than I expected and look forward to book three.

Cruel Wolves and Devious Deceptions photoCruel Wolves & Devious Deceptions:

Meh, this was my least favorite of the three stories. Both because I didn’t really feel Des and Meiying’s hot and cold, antagonistic relationship and because it’s the only book to end on a cliff-hanger. It felt half finished. Plus, there’s the whole fact that Des had been lusting after her (and more) since she was like 14. The world establishes that shifters are more tactile than humans and start experimenting earlier, but it was still squinky as hell for me.

But I did think the writing was good, the dialogue especially. I’d be interested in finishing the series and reading more of Romero/Annett’s writing.

Other Reviews:

WICKED SAVAGE WOLVES by Daniela Romero Tour and Giveaway


Tow Away Zone

Book Review: Tow Away Zone, by Chris Towndrow

I accepted a review copy of Chris Towndrow‘s Tow Away Zone from Rachel’s Random Resources.
Tow Away Zone - cover paperback NEWv1

When a travelling salesman with monochromatic vision finds a town that’s not on the map, he must choose between romance and a long-held promise of untold riches.

Beckman Spiers is a grey man in a grey world—and he’s happy with that. After 12 years of routine and grind, he’s again fighting to become Number One Salesman of the Year. Legend has it, Number Ones get so rich, they never work again. With a week to go, Beckman is gaining on his nemesis, smooth-talking Tyler Quittle. When a chance blowout on a deserted Arizona highway leaves Beckman stranded, the mysterious Saul arrives, and tows him to the strange neon-lit town of Sunrise. Here, he meets the glamorous Lolita Milan and his fortunes change. Yet, Sunrise’s small-town charms conceal secrets, and his world becomes one of private investigators and backstabbing business deals. What will he have to do to reach Number One? And what will he do if he wins the race?

my review

I thought this was a fun read with quirky, likeable characters that kept me interested. While the writing was perfectly readable and well edited, it did occasionally slant a little too far toward trying so hard to be witty that it fell flat instead. Such as the times it read like this, for example:

Mercifully, before long, a shape rose from the heat haze. A stationary shape. A building-shaped shape. A gas station-shaped building shape. (pg 15)

Yeah, this is my *blank, un-amused stare.* I see what the author is doing there, but can we not? Similarly, I occasionally didn’t understand what the characters were actually trying to relay in some of their verbal byplay.

But more often than any of that, I chuckled along with the what on earth is going to happen next-ness of the book, appreciated how things wrapped back around on themselves, and I’d happily read another.

Tow away zone photo 1

Other Reviews:

Blog Tour: Tow Away Zone – Chris Towndrow

Tow Away Zone (The Sunrise trilogy Book 1)


Tow Away Zonne Full Tour Banner