Tag Archives: reverse harem

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Book review: Red, by S.J. Sanders

I saw S.J. SandersRed recommended on Tiktok and purchased a copy for myself.
red cover

There were certain truths everyone knew. Never wear red or any other bright color. Make as little sound as possible if one had to be outside the protection of the sanctuary settlements. And never, ever, go out in the wild places alone. The Ragoru, an alien species set down to live among them, dwell within the forests and everyone knows that they crave all things red.

Arie’s life has always been one of playing by the rules. She doesn’t draw attention to herself. She doesn’t leave her home without her hood that conceals her bright red hair. It is a secret from everyone, and her hood protects her secret so that she may continue to live safely within the village until one day that secret comes to light. Absconding into the woods soon becomes her only safety, and she will risk her very life into the care of the very dreaded beings that all people fear, the Ragoru, in hope of making it to her grandmother’s house in the citadel at the other side of the great forest.

When circumstances reveal them to not be the monsters of human imagination, but that they stir the ravenous beast within her, Arie finds that she is willing to risk far more to find a way to be with them forever. Even if that means severing ties with her grandmother, rejecting the human comforts of the citadel, and facing the horror of the Order of the Huntsmen.

my review

Meh. I actually really enjoyed the first half of this book. It is super formulaic and predictable. (I mean if, before reading the book, someone had asked me to write a generic outline based on this book’s blurb, I would have succeeded with 100% success.) There are NO surprises and NOTHING that you’re used to seeing in the genre is left out. Even the seemingly random events are just section 2, part b, subsection iii of the most commonly utilized industry outline (or so it seems). It’s your basic bitch, Why Choose fairy-tale retelling book. But hey, we read them because we enjoy them. So, predictable in the extreme, but also super cute. I really did enjoy watching the males come around. They’re all adorable in their own way.

I can’t really say the same for Arie though. She just kind of existed. And I honestly never got over my page-one question about why, if you could be exiled or killed for having red hair, you’d grow it out instead of cutting it off. I was really bothered by the idea that she walked around with a whole Merida-like head of hair hidden under a hood her whole life. Why would you endanger yourself like that? It was ridiculous in the extreme, but I decided to look over it. Despite that, I still found her a fairly bland heroine.

I’m wandering. My point was that despite being noting new to the genre I enjoyed it…up until the halfway mark. I even overlooked the editing mishaps. But after the halfway mark, when Sanders took the characters outside of their small story-line, the whole thing fell apart. Most notably the plotting fell apart and suddenly everything was too easy.

Three non-humans walked into a hostile human city for the first time and instantly found what might have been the only human who both wasn’t afraid of them and was willing/able to help them. Arie similarly was introduced to one person. She asked them for help and they said yes, etc. It didn’t even really feel like a story anymore, just a list of events with no emotional significance. By the time the final fight scene rolled around—which was won with ridiculous red photoease—I was done.

The book is also just too long. Whole sections could be cut easily. I’m thinking of the entire episode with the mutated humans and subsequent events, for example. All of it could have been cut wholesale for a tighter read, it contributes so little to the overall story.

So, to recap, fun if formulaic first half, lazy (and still formulaic) second half. I love the cover though!


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Book Reviews: The Thorns of Charbon Institute Series, by Kate Messick

Kate Messick contacted me about reading/reviewing her The Thorns of Charbon Institute Series (Self Studies, Group Studies, and Class Studies). I agreed to read book one and, if I liked it, continue to the other books. I ended up reading all three. I did take notes for individual reviews, but I think I’d rather write one for the series as a whole instead.

Thorns of Charbon Institute Series covers

I knew nothing but the touch of my master until the Magical Authorities killed him and set my world on fire.

Now, I’m a prisoner at an institute stressing students beyond their limits.

I’m a sorceress who can’t access her magic and wanted by wickedly handsome mages who all have their own agenda.

I spent my life following directions. Now I can make my own decisions, I don’t know the right ones. Why is saying ‘no’ so hard?

With the administration judging every action I take and weighing them on their uneven scales of morality, I must come to terms with my darkness to survive and, if I’m lucky, even gain my freedom.

my review

On the whole I enjoyed this series. I binged all 3 books in about 4 days. I liked the heroine and all her men. Each managed to have a distinct personality, which isn’t always the case when authors write such a large grouping. (Beryl was my favorite. How could he not be?) And the writing is smooth and easy to read. (Though there are a few editing mishaps and they increase as the series progresses—more in book 2 than 1, and 3 than 2. But nothing too disruptive. I noticed them, but kept right on reading.)

self studies photoAll in all I have more good things to say than bad. But I do have a few complaints, most of which are subtle and therefore not brief to explain. None of them were deal-breakers for me though (or I wouldn’t have read the whole series).

My biggest is how very focused on Aphrodite’s sex the book is. Now, I don’t mean the number of sex scenes or anything like that. I just mean the way she is largely reduced to her sexuality over and over and over again. The thing for me is that this is what has happened to women for so much of history. History has painted us as mindless slaves to our urges (and this has been used to both villainize and victimize us).

Messick definitely falls into this tradition. Both in making Aphrodite almost mindless with lust for a large part of the series and (for me more notable) making every man (both those she wants and far too many others) pant for her. There is a long standing history of sexual abuse, starting in childhood, attempted rapes (plural), threats of sexual violence, groping, leering, more than one attempted kidnapping with rape as one of the intended outcomes, etc. Then there were the other people calling her a slut and such. Just too much of the story revolved around Aphrodite as something to have sex with, rather than Aphrodite a person for my comfort. Not only for any sort of high brow reason, but also just because I got bored of it. I was especially sick of Ram and Alrick by the end. (Though I’ll also acknowledge that overcoming some of this was one of Aphrodite’s points of growth.)

group studies photoNone of this was helped by the way sex scenes were almost exclusively focused on what the men were doing TO Aphrodite. Sometimes what they were telling each-other to do TO Aphrodite. She often didn’t feel like an ACTIVE participant. By the end, when we had all five men involved at once, she might as well have been a blow-up doll for all she seemed involved as anything other than something for the men to move, manipulate, affect, dump into, etc. Unfortunately, I don’t encounter this infrequently. It’s fairly common, actually. And while I noticed it, Messick wasn’t any worse than some of those other author’s who write sex scenes this way.

Similarly, Aphrodite is told over and over again like calls to like, power calls to power. For a lot of the early part of the series there is a definite sense that most of her men love her for what she is not who she is. They have explosive sex and the men ‘fall in love’ but there is no sense of knowing or liking one another. They have sex once and ate hooked. Which, again, reduces Aphrodite to a sexual object, not a person.

And almost all of those rather long paragraphs can be reduced to the book is full of the patriarchal view of sexuality and male gaze of the female sex. That’s my biggest complaint.

My biggest compliment is just how *chef’s kiss* wonderfully Messick shows Aphrodite’s personal growth. The way she learns to recognize and come to terms with all of the ways Damon victimized and controlled her, the ability to hold contradictory and confusing feelings about a victimizer, growing a backbone, and started to stand on her own. Honestly, this is well done over the course of the series.

I also liked the way not all of Aphrodite’s men fell in love with her and were instantly on board for the whole peaceful harem situation. There were personality clashes, cliques, likes and dislikes among them. Some were open to pairings others weren’t, some were open to activities others weren’t, some were open to trying new things others weren’t, some liked each-other more than others. It made for a more interesting group.

class studies photoI did think that by the end of the 3rd book a lot of the plotting felt same-same. I mean the broader plot of book 2 and 3 were almost exactly the same, even utilizing some of the same bad guys. Then there was a 3 year gap and a happily-ever-after epilogue that felt random. Other than the harem (that’s the term they use in the book) having formed, there was nothing to distinguish the end of book 3 as the end of the series any more than the end of book 2. Messick could have written 6 more books before coming to the same epilogue point. It felt arbitrary.

All in all, however, any other complaints I have are minor (occasional clunky dialogue or clichéd speech pattern for a side character, for example, or the lack of non-cliché, fleshed out female characters outside of Aphrodite) and basically not worth mentioning. I’d certainly read another Messick book…or series


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Self Studies by KATE MESSICK (Book Review #1245)

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Book Review: Dragged Under, by D.E. Chapman

I picked up a Kindle copy of D.E. Chapman‘s Dragged Under on one of it’s Amazon freebie days.

dragged under cover

Send help… I’m going to need it.

I was normal… until I wasn’t. Dying does that to people, I guess.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. My name is Gabrielle, and I’m an omega. My life took an unexpected turn the moment I was dragged into an alley and murdered. When I woke up, I fully embodied lust and jumped three sexy-as-sin strangers—who just so happened to be Hell’s strongest demons.

Now the four of us are bonded for life. And as it turns out, this group of three is actually a group of six. Oh and there’s this huge plot to overthrow the current leader of Hell, and somehow I’ve found myself smack dab in the middle of it.

If I thought my life before was a challenge, it’s got nothing on this shit.

my review
When I picked up a copy of Dragged Under, a reverse harem in which a woman mates the Deadly Sins (one of which is Lucifer himself), I never would have imagined my primary descriptor on finishing it would be bland. I was simply bored the whole time.

Even the sex is mechanical and dull. I’m talking P enters V, equals O. Sometimes P doesn’t even enter V more than once before O. No foreplay, no getting to know the men, no variation, no emotion, no passion. Mechanics, that’s it, and not even many of those. It’s about as erotic as sitting on a chair and then immediately standing up, done.

The villain is a caricature that drops in to monologue briefly on occasion and nothing more. The primary foil being ridiculous challenges that are overcome with comical ease.

Everyone had two names (both the 7 Sins and everyone else) that are used interchangeably throughout the book. So, I could never keep track of who was doing what. (Why would an author do this?) On top of not being able to keep names straight, none of characters are well developed or differ enough to tell them apart anyway, not even the heroine.

dragged under photoBut then how could she be? She spends literally half the book asleep or unconscious and the other half being carried or used as a flesh-lite. (The men negotiate with each-other about who gets to stick it in next—and that’s about all they ever do. She’s never an active participant.) She might as well be an inanimate object. I’m not even exaggerating here.

And the whole thing ends with a deus ex machina that made no sense at all. I have no desire for more of this series.


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