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Book Review: The Stormbringer Trilogy, by Isabel Cooper

Last year, I won a copy of Blood and Ember (book 3 of the Stormbringer series). But I put off reading it because I didn’t have books 1 and 2. Well, lately, I’ve been making a concerted effort to read books from my physical book shelves. I borrowed The Stormbringer (#1) and The Night Born (#2) from Hoopla so that I could read Blood and Ember (#3).

the stom bringer coverAbout the Book:

Raised to be weapons against the darkness, Sentinels spend their lives fighting the monsters that prey upon humanity. Their hands will shape the world, and their swords will seal its fate.

A warrior lost to time…

Pursuing her latest quarry deep into the wilderness, Sentinel Darya finds herself in an ancient city that should no longer exist. There she comes upon a handsome warrior in ancient clothing, held in a deathlike sleep—Amris, hero of the last great battle against the Traitor God. His discovery, and the weakening wards about the city, can only mean one thing: the Traitor is gathering his armies again, and the storms are returning.

Amris has been trapped in dreamless sleep since the final battle raged centuries ago. Now he is awake…and so, it seems, is humanity’s greatest threat. Determined to save the world from being swallowed by the oncoming storm, Amris and the fiercely beautiful Darya must learn to trust each other—and the powerful bond that’s formed between them—as they fight their way through a land swarming with monsters in a last desperate bid to get word back to their allies before it’s too late…

my review
Having read this, I can now say that I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. I thought both Amris and Darya were lovely characters. They were just so unfailingly kind to one another and those around them—good people. Plus, they’re both well into adulthood. I also very much appreciated being given a bisexual hero (without it being any drama) and several LGBTQ side characters. Similarly, Darya and Amris had different skill-sets, but both were allowed to excel together and apart. (And they do fight apart, even after getting together.) So often, us readers are given a ‘badass heroine’ who goes limp in the presence of the hero. Cooper didn’t do that to us. Darya stays just as competent and dangerous after meeting Amris as she was before and I loved that.

I did feel a bit thrown into the story. The book starts at the re-ignition of a magical war and there is a lot of history to absorb quickly. I never felt like I got a real feel for the villain. For that matter, I don’t really feel like I got to know Darya and Amris particularly deeply either. I liked them, but they are on the go for the entirety of the book and I didn’t feel like there was ever a chance to pause, breathe, and get to know them outside of the circumstances of the story.

All in all, however, I can’t wait to jump into book two. Though I do want to make a quick point about the cover. One presumes that is Amris, the male lead. He spends the entire book in plate armor. He briefly takes it off to bathe, sleep, and for the single (very mild) sex scene. But he is notably in armor the whole book. So, why are we given a shirtless cover? It’s not that I dislike the cover, or that I’m a prude about skin. But I do feel like it misrepresents the sort of story one will find under that cover. Just, sayin’.

the night born coverAbout the Book:

Raised from childhood to be weapons, Sentinels spend their lives fighting the monsters that prey upon humanity. Their hands will shape the world, and their swords will seal its fate.

As war looms, Sentinel Branwyn seeks military aid from the High Council, attracting interest from its youngest member, Zelen Varengir. He’s intrigued by Branwyn but can’t risk helping her cause. Instead, he must learn all he can about the intriguing newcomer—especially who’s behind framing her for the murder of the High Lord and threatening to tear apart the world as they know it…


my review

Oh man, what is with these covers?! Yes, I do realize that I said much the same thing about book one and it is the least important aspect of a book for a book review. But honestly, Zelen is a healer and a diplomat. He does know how to use a sword, but he is 100% not a warrior. Plus, he’s tall and slim (and not prone to walking around shirtless). So, what is that cover! Who is it supposed to be? Because it is NO ONE in the book. And the fact that I’m starting my review with it tells you how strongly the disconnect between it and the actual story truly is! It not only is inaccurate, it gives you the impression the book is in a totally different sub-genre than it is (erotic romance instead of fairly low-spice romance).

Now, about the actual story. I didn’t like it quite as much as book one (The Stormbringer), but I also feel like I got the chance to know these characters better than Darya and Amris, which I appreciated. Much like book one, Zelen and Branwyn are lovely 30 plus year-old people who are honest and kind to those around them (including each-other). In Branwyn’s case, she’s tied to a god who values honesty, which just makes her disinclined to be anything but straight forward. I can’t stress how lovely it is to read a romance that doesn’t bother with drama produced by avoidable dishonesties. Both characters are clear with themselves and each-other about they want.

The writing is clean and easy to read. There’s a notable amount do diversity too. Off the top of my head, I remember a counselor with a sex sex partner, a healer in a wheelchair, and peoples of various ages, sexes, and appearances. All of whom simply existed, without there needing to be a ‘reason.’

All in all, I’m still enjoying this series and look forward to reading book three, Blood and Ember.

blood and ember coverAbout the Book:

A century ago, the Traitor God’s fury left the world broken by violent storms and twisted monsters born of darkness and death. Now those storms are sweeping across the continent again and it will take everything the armies of man can muster to survive. As a sworn knight, Olvir is prepared to do his part—even if that means journeying deep into the magic-tainted Battlefield to face the enemy alone.

Sentinel Vivian Bathari has lost too much to allow her closest friend to make such a sacrifice on his own. Besides, there are whispers that Olvir’s strange new powers are somehow connected to the Traitor God, and she’d rather be by his side should the worst occur. But as they travel deep into the heart of danger, their growing attraction burns into mutual desire, and the true depth of Olvir’s connection to the evil haunting their world is made clear. In the end, Vivian will have to decide what she’s willing to sacrifice to save their world…and the man she loves.

my review

I thought this a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. It did drag a bit. The book is largely two character walking from one place to another, talking, and encountering the occasional challenge. But I liked both of the characters a lot. And I very much appreciated what Cooper let them be. Of the two, Olvir is the younger by close to 10 years and Vivian is 40+. That’s not a pairing you see often (except in ‘sexy cougar seduces younger man’ scenarios, which this isn’t). And both are just unfailingly kind to one another in very difficult circumstances. I feel like Cooper went out of her way to subvert a lot of tropes and that didn’t go unnoticed or encouraged on my part.

The book reminded me a lot of T. Kingfisher‘s The Saint Of Steel series, with the tragically noble knight and the practical older romantic partner. Luckily, I really enjoyed those book (at least what I’ve read of the series, I’ve not finished it). I recommend both it and this one though.

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Other Reviews:

The Reading Cafe: The Stormbringer

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Book Review: Smokin’ Hot Cowboy Christmas, by Kim Redford

I won a copy of Smokin’ Hot Cowboy Christmas, by Kim Redford last year, but never got around to read it. I read it this year as part of my Christmas Reading Challenge.

smokin' hot cowboy Christmas

It’s been one fiasco after another for newcomer Belle Tarleton since she began trying to turn her ranch into an arts center. Local workers seem determined to ruin her Christmas party plans, and she hopes bringing in down-on-his-luck Rowdy Holloway to help with renovations will get things back on track.

Rowdy is the unluckiest cowboy in the whole of Wildcat Bluff County, Texas, and things are not improving this holiday season. Sure, he’s the object of many local women’s drool-worthy fantasies, but the town has decided he’s the man who should stop Belle’s renovation plans.

It started as a simple mission, but now Rowdy’s so twisted up he doesn’t know whose side he’s on. With only days until Christmas, Rowdy and Belle need to tap into their fiery personalities and off-the-charts chemistry if they’re ever going to find a way to thaw the ice on this reluctant town’s heart.

my review

This is a spoilery, ranty, ragey, hate review in which I drop a lot of F-bombs. Be warned.

Whenever I’m reviewing a book that isn’t really in a genre I tend toward I usually still try to be objective. What doesn’t work for me usually does work for someone else and my not liking it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad book. Cowboy Romances is one of those genres. I just don’t understand the emotional impact I’m supposed to feel by being reminded someone isn’t just a volunteer fireman, but a cowboy volunteer fireman; not just a businesswoman, but a cowgirl business woman, ad infinitum. Why is that so much better? Why is that anything more than an extra noun—annoyingly used as an adjective—in the middle of too many sentences?

So, I went in to Smokin’ Hot Cowboy Christmas knowing it wasn’t really going to be my cup of tea, but wanting to read it all the same. (I’m doing a Christmas reading challenge that it is part of.) I’d planned to be open to it though. But the reality is that I so disliked the book, in general, that I don’t even know that I can be objective about it. I hated this thing! First off, that description is BARELY accurate. It’s damn near a lie, honestly. But that’s a small thing in the grand scheme of things.

The main issue is that I found no romance in this. All I saw was a wide-spread con and it’s victim. All I recognized was a supposed redemption arc that somehow forgot the redemption part of the plan. If I were to title this review, it would be Fuck Those People, Fuck Every Single One Of Them.

Rowdy and others say over and over again during this book that he’s the unluckiest cowboy in the county. I very quickly realized he wasn’t unlucky, he’s just an asshole. And that was when he was simply lying and trying to sabotage Belle’s business venture to drive her out of town. Then he started sleeping with her, while still actively lying and sabotaging her business, and I thought, “Oh, he’s a huge asshole.” Then he told her he loved her and let her love him in return (while still not stopping the ruse) and I went, “Oh, he’s a supreme asshole.” Fuck that guy, just fuck him!

He was supposed to be all conflicted, but no one forced him. He could have stopped at any point and chose not to, over and over and over again. Fuck Him. He wasn’t in a “pickle” or a “bind” or “between a rock and a hard place.” He made choices. At one point he and the other council members were like, “This isn’t who we are.” And I just went, “Well, it very obviously is, since it’s what you very clearly did and continued to do.”

And this cockamamie plan of the town council made no sense at all, anyhow. No one appeared to have ever actually spoken to Belle about the plans they were trying to derail. No one really knew what her business goals even were. So, the drastic lengths they were trying to go to were just stupid. Fuck them all!

Then, after 360 pages of faffing about there is about a page of apology (not from Rowdy, I might add) that goes like this:

What we did was wrong. As a community, we apologize. We’re here to roof your house as a way of making amends and asking you to stay…Nothing is ever too little too late when so much is at stake. Our county needs you. We need you. We need your smarts, your drive, your vision…and your love.

So, that comes down to We tried to drive you out of town, but we realize we need you now. So please forgive us so we can use you. Fuck Every Single One Of Them! Repeatedly.

And she does. The true depths of the betrayal is never truly addressed. Redford seriously let Rowdy and the county off with inferences and suggestions. And Belle still instantly forgives them. You know what, fuck her too. Not really, she doesn’t deserve it. But fuck Redford for giving me a heroine who can get royally and knowingly screwed over by an entire county and shrug it off as unimportant. Talk about a milksop! It absolutely undermined the whole rest of the book that Redford spent telling us how independent and self-assured Belle was. Apparently she’s willing to be a complete doormat. Fuck that too.

Then there was the utterly farcical side gambit with the missing cow. The cow that was eventually found in what should have been the first place they looked, not the last. It was just annoying as hell. The humor fell completely flat. And the question of the all important roof that the town showed up to repair as their big act of apology and redemption? Well, it wasn’t roofed in the first place because of them. It no longer mattered if it got roofed at all, because they’d already forced her to miss the deadline she was working toward. And if the task was such that the town could simply come together to do it, I have to wonder why the cowboys who worked Belle’s ranch couldn’t simply have been assigned the work at any point in the book.

Speaking of cowboys…the whole mythos of the cowboy that is invoked 14 million times in this book…no one actually is. They’re ranchers who hire people to work their ranches. Those are cowboys. The character in this book are Boss Hogs. They’re the owners who hire cowboys. Fuck Every One Of Those Fat Cats for pretending to be blue collar men and women too.

I hated this book. I could spend half the afternoon telling you all the other ways I hated it. But just know I hated it. Not because I don’t like Cowboy Romance or Christmas books or Western settings. Not because of the writing, which was fine (even if the inconsistencies were annoying—people wearing stocking taking off their jeans or people wearing sweat suits unsnapping their shirt, etc) but because the story is horrible. Fuck those people, every single one of them!

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Other Reviews:

REVIEW: Smokin’ Hot Cowboy Christmas by Kim Redford

Be sure to come back tomorrow. I’ll be reviewing Where We Begin, by Janey King.

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Book Review: Fierce Cowboy Wolf, by Kait Ballenger

I won a copy of Kait Ballenger‘s Fierce Cowboy Wolf.

fierce cowboy wolf cover

She’s all he wanted, but was unable to claim…until now.

Sierra Cavanaugh has worked her whole life to become the first female elite warrior in Grey Wolf history. With her nomination finally put forward, all she needs is the pack council’s approval. But those stuffy old wolves refuse to elect her unless she finds herself a mate.

Packmaster Maverick Grey was reconciled to spending the rest of his life alone. Now, upon entering into treaty renegotiations with the other Seven Range clans, he needs the elite warrior vacancy filled—and fast. If Sierra needs a mate, this is his chance to claim her. But Sierra has an agenda of her own for their union, and they’ll need to work together against the assassin intent on barring the deal. For these two rivals, the only thing more dangerous than fighting the enemy at their backs is battling the war of seduction building between them…

my review

*Mild spoiler warning*

I’m very middle of the road on how I feel about this book. There were some things I liked a lot, some things I didn’t like at all, some things I thought I’d hate that turned out to be appreciable instead, and some things I thought I’d love but Ballenger managed to sully. That’s a mixed bag of feelings not easy to get on paper.

I guess the best I can do is take them one at a time, even if some of them overlap. I liked Sierra a lot. I liked that she was independent, forward thinking, and willing to pursue her own desires. I like watching strong men realize a woman is their emotional salvation, as Maverick eventually did. It’s one of those ‘Yes, it’s problematic but it ticks my sexy buttons’ sort of things. I liked that the sex didn’t get all dominant and submissive, undermining Sierra’s right to her strength, as was really popular in romance for a while.

I disliked that, even if Ballenger was willing to set aside many of the icky tropes so common in romance, she wasn’t willing to set aside the expectation of virginity one. She did try to give reasons Sierra was still a virgin well past the age one would expect it. But it still felt like a ‘qualifier of female purity’ line that she wasn’t willing to cross.

And as this plot point played out, it came to a scene where Sierra embarrassingly admitted her virginity to Maverick and asked him to teach her to pleasure a man. And I wanted to DNF the book right there. I thought, “Shit, she’s going to play the ingénue (which doesn’t fit her character at all) and I’m going to have to sit through all the trainee sex while Maverick goes all alpha dominant in the bedroom and teaches her about her own body.” I hate that. But Ballenger surprised me. She didn’t take the well worn and predictable path. Instead, Maverick refused and Sierra stepped up and negotiated for her desires. She knew her body, knew what she wanted, and refused to be denied her just rewards. I liked this.

I liked that throughout the book Sierra championed for women’s rights and Maverick was in support of them. I disliked that when he finally managed to push through all the equal rights changes the pack needed to bring them into the modern age, it was described through Sierra’s thoughts as:

Sierra cradled the pile of papers in her hands, staring down at them in awe before she glanced back up at him, tears pouring down her face. He’d done it. He’d placed her wants, her needs, and desires before all other duty and kept his promise.

I mean, woo-hoo for social equality. But I’d have appreciated if he’d passed all the reforms because he thought it was best for the pack or believed in them himself. Instead, he just gave his wife what she wanted in order to get her to forgive him for a past transgression. It seriously undermined the validity of the changes, or at least his deserved virtue for making them.

I liked that Sierra stood up for the idea of women being more than breeders and put her career first. But I disliked that Ballenger then ended the book with her pregnant, which back-pedaled the idea entirely. Sierra can claim she and women are good for more than popping out babies, but apparently the reader can’t be trusted to recognize a happy ending if it doesn’t involve said babies.

I liked the easily readable writing. But I grew to hate the “cowboy” and “warrior” titles. It felt really REALLY forced, frequently dropped in whenever Ballenger wanted to evoke the ascetic of a cowboy but too often not actually relevant to the scene. Here’s an example:

Her own eyes flashed to her wolf as she bared her teeth and let out a snarl of her own. She wasn’t intimidated by him in the least. “This is my fight. Not yours. Cowboy or not, you’re not leaving me standing here in you dust as you ride off into the fucking sunset. We do this together or don’t do this at all.”

The problem is that this was a scene where they’d just discovered who the villain was and he’d instructed another wolf to protect her while he went to kill the bad guy. What does that have to do with cowboy? “Pack-leader or not” would have fit the context, “Alpha wolf or not” would have made sense, even “Husband or not” would have matched the scene. But cowboy didn’t. I can’t even make the reference to riding into the sunset bring it into relevance.

And this happened over and over again, “cowboy” being dropped in to remind the reader that Maverick is apparently a cowboy (as if the constant readjusting of Stetsons or mention of cowboy boots or ranch-work wasn’t enough). And maybe it wasn’t, since what Maverick was was a werewolf pack-leader who owned a ranch. Giving him the cowboy title too and trying to make it dominant felt like Ballenger was sticking a name-tag to his chest and kept instructing the reader to look at it instead of the actual character development. What it felt like was that Ballenger had a note to remind herself to drop the word in every 25 pages or so to make the title of the book relevant. Similarly, Maverick’s random use of “warrior” to address Sierra lost meaning after a while.

All in all, the mixed feelings on this book drops it right in the middle of liked and disliked for me. This was the first Ballenger book I’ve read (which means I’ve not read the rest of this series, despite this being a 4th book). I think I’ll give her another change, gather a little more data before I decide how I feel about her books in general.

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Other Reviews:

Fierce Cowboy Wolf (Seven Range Shifters)by Kait Ballenger-review

Review: Fierce Cowboy Wolf by Kait Ballenger