Book Review – The Bonds That Tie series

I’ve been a big fan of J Bree’s writing since reading the Hannaford Prep series, which introduces Eclipse (Lips) Anderson, one of the more memorable female protagonists to come out of the current trend of kick-ass heroines. However, the follow up series (Queen Crow) really didn’t do it for me and I put off reading this series for a while as a result. Big mistake.

The Bonds That Tie series is right back on Hannaford Prep form. There are all the tropes I love: fated mates, rejected mate, age-gap, enemies-to-lovers, found family, self-saving princess, wounded heroes, journey to power, and ultimately, saving the world from a big bad. The series starts in a college, so there’s a touch of New Adult bully romance (with a dash of taboo hot professor), but it moves beyond that setting by the second book for readers who aren’t fans. The characters in The Bonds That Tie series are a little older than Hannaford Prep, which made me as a reader more comfortable with the romantic relationships that the heroine develops with her five heroes, particularly when those relationships have an element of power exchange.

The world building in The Bonds That Tie series is unusual. It’s an alternative, contemporary world that could be Australia or could be America, the author isn’t specific (which I like – it makes the series feel like a parable). People are split into “Gifted” and “non-gifted.” Gifted people have magical powers (via a spirit they call a “bond”). Their magical powers manifest early in life (around puberty), but only fully develop after they find their fated mates and consummate the mating (“bonding”), at which point they get a big kick in power and develop secondary abilities.

For the heroine, Oleander (Oli), her bond is a terrifying thing. I won’t say what Oli’s bond is, but she’s even more of a ninja than Lips. (Think Kali.) Oli’s resistant to bonding because of the potential power kick it will give her inner Kali, which creates plenty of tension between Oli and her heroes, who believe she’s rejecting them. The miscommunication trope is super-strong in the first two books; it is not my favorite trope and I was happy to see it fade out by book three.

The highlights of the books for me were when Oli’s bond was out and doing her thing. I also loved the sections where one of Oli’s mates got a psychic connection with Oli and could hear what Oli’s bond was thinking. Typical J Bree bone-dry hilarity and I am always there for that.

The later books are dedicated to the war between the Gifted who want to crush the non-Gifted to rule the world and our heroine and her five heroes. It’s a war of ever-increasing stakes and there were some impossible moments when it really looked like Oli would lose one or more of her guys. J Bree writes amazing action/battle sequences and her talent was on full display here. The romance took a bit of a back seat in the last two books and I felt that one of the heroes almost disappeared in all the action (that could just have been my own pet peeve because he was my favorite in the early books and he got very little screen time after book 3). But the climax was very satisfying; I’m always happiest when the characters earn their happy ending and these characters certainly did.

There are some big triggers in this series, including incest, so readers should check those before they dive in.

This is a chunky series. Six thick books. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a half-million words or more. But the unrelenting pace makes those words go fast. This isn’t a series to fear because of how much of a commitment six books is.

Read The Bonds That Tie series here, free to read with a Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Book Review – The Lone Wolf’s Rejected Mate

Book 3 in the Five Packs series by Cate C. Wells

I stayed up all night (literally – sun was rising when I closed my eyes) reading this, my first read of 2023.

I’ve loved this whole series and this book is no exception. The ripple effects of the horrors of the time when Declan Kelly controlled the pack continue to spread. If you thought Killian was twisted and stunted from his father’s monstrosity, just wait until Darragh’s secrets come out.

This book takes the overarching plot line of what’s happening to the Five Packs a big step forward. I don’t want to spoil it, but that part of the book was tremendously tense for me. Yes, it’s a romance. Yes, I know there’s going to be an HEA. But, boy, was I in doubt as to how Darragh and Mari were going to get out of that very sticky situation. I loved that it wasn’t just Darragh to the rescue. A self-saving princess is one of my favorite tropes and Mari came through without turning into Wonder Woman, which would not have been true to her character.

And then there’s the tree house. Sigh. So many happy tears.
Highly recommended.

Review – The Maid and the Orcs

I started crying at 16% and didn’t stop … in the best way!

I started crying at 16% and didn’t stop …

I love this series. It’s gone to the top of my TBR with each new release. And I think this is the best book yet. For a reader coming to the series fresh, I actually think this one could be read as a standalone. By tell the story from Alma’s point of view, the author has made everything fresh, the reader discovers things as Alma does. But reading the whole series gives SO much more depth to this story. Seeing the respect that the Skai scouts give Drafli. (Sniffle.) Finding out why Drafli stuck to the Skai ways for so long. (Sob.) Learning Drafli’s tragic history and the story behind his scar. (Waaaa!)

Nope, I never stopped crying. This story hit me in ALL the feels.

I’ve said in previous reviews how much I admire the worldbuilding in this series. Discovering who does the laundry in Orc Mountain gave this story so much depth. How they clean the floors? Brilliant. I’d never have thought of that. The author has always done a great job of making me feel that I was right in the story, smelling, hearing, seeing, tasting, and feeling this world right along with the characters. Never more so than this story. Given that the series is written in third person, which is not my preferred POV (but the author makes it work), that is a real feat and a testament to the author’s skill.

I’ve already re-read the book twice. I’m sure I will re-read it again MANY times. Highly recommended!

New Year, New Worlds

A few of my favorite scifi and fantasy romances that will transport you to another world.

Looking for a book that transports you to a realm both familiar and strange, which you can truly lose yourself in for a few hours? Come take a look at a few of my favorite scifi and fantasy romances that will transport you to another world.

From the dark desperation of Orc Mountain to the weird and wonderful hookup of a moth fae and a succubae, here are five books that will open your eyes and your mind:

https://shepherd.com/best-books/scifi-and-fantasy-romance

Book Review – Saint

Then the twist came and I just sat there staring at the page. Wow.

Saint by Ruby Vincent

This magnificent tale is a little slow to start but keep with it, because it picks up fast and when it does, it’s a heck of a ride!

Addy, Saint, Brutal, Cash, Mercer – I fell in love with these characters and the gritty world they inhabit so hard. And then the twist came and I just sat there staring at the page. Wow. I won’t say any more because you have to experience this book without knowing what’s coming to really enjoy it.

Saint is the first book in the Saint and Sinners series (four books and the series is complete). I’ve already started reading the second book in the series (Cash) and am loving it.

Saint is available to read here on Amazon and free in Kindle Unlimited.

Book Review – Priceless

This is a “pure” humiliation kink book, where the hero and heroine play humiliation games in private.

I discovered humiliation kink a few years ago, after many, many years of thinking it was beyond my personal squick level. (Never say never.) Although Priceless is new adult (college age), like many bully romances, but is not really a bully book. The hero and heroine have barely any interaction in public and what there is is actually nurturing and supportive. This is a “pure” humiliation kink book, where the hero and heroine play humiliation games in private.

I’m still up in the air about whether I enjoy the public bullying or private humiliation games more, but I LOVED this book and immediately went and bought it after reading it KU because it’s a rainy-day book that I’ll read again and again.

The premise is really simple: the heroine has poor financial control and gets herself in a tight spot where the utilities are turned off on a cold night and her party friends aren’t there for her. The hero, who has seen her around campus before, overhears her call to one of the party friends, realizes she needs quick cash, and offers her an opportunity to “earn” it.

The premise is simple, but the characters are not. These are nuanced, fully-fleshed, living, breathing characters who I wouldn’t be surprised to bump into at a campus coffee shop. What I liked even better? They don’t exist in a vacuum. They have people around them – some friends, some who look like friends and aren’t – who are affected by their actions. I absolutely loved the way the author traced through the ripple effect, particularly of the hero’s actions.

On top of this immersive characterization, the author writes BLAZINGLY hot s3x scenes. They are 🔥🔥🔥. I’m in awe. I’m now reading through this author’s back catalogue and love the next book I picked up (The Boys Next Door) just as much so far.

Priceless is available on Amazon here and free to read in Kindle Unlimited.

Book review – Feed

There’s fairy weirdness. There’s pronoun ambiguity. There’s moth parts (who knew?!). It’s wonderful.

I absolutely LOVED this story. It’s an enemies to lovers in a very untraditional way – a succubus and a Death’s Head Moth fae are paired by a kind of kinky fae Tindr, only they’ve been co-workers and fierce rivals for a long time. That adds a huge amount of tension to their amazing hook-up.

The story is one long s3x scene, but it’s perfect. There’s fairy weirdness. There’s pronoun ambiguity. There’s moth parts (who knew?!). It’s wonderful. And the best part? The domly affection and respect moth-boy has for the succubus. He expresses it in every touch, long before a few sentences where he tries to tell her how he feels. It broke me in the best way.

There’s a novel-length story coming (this one’s about 14k – an hour’s read) and the author has another story releasing this month, which I immediately pre-ordered after reading Feed.

Very special and highly recommended.

Feed is available here on Amazon and is in Kindle Unlimited.

Review – Savage Prince

Ultimately, this is a book that will uplift you, even if it wrecks you a little on the way. 

This series just gets better and better.

I loved-loved-loved Nikolai and Dahlia’s story (Ruthless King), but I think I like Maxheim and Tess’s story even better. Maybe it’s the second dip into the complex world this author is building that made it feel more complete, more fully-fleshed? Maybe it’s that I’m more invested in this family and their struggles? I’m not exactly sure what made this book stronger in my mind, but it is.

This is not light, fluffy omegaverse, so sensitive readers should take care. As with all omegaverse, there are power imbalances and Maxheim, underneath his surface frost, is caring, but 100% alpha. There’s human trafficking, which I find slightly triggering, but it’s done sensitively. As with Nikolai and Dahlia’s story there’s a great deal of angst and some big hurdles for the characters to overcome. But the darker themes are balanced against humor, warmth, triumph of the human (sort of!) spirit, and the building of the Skolov extended family. Ultimately, this is a book that will uplift you, even if it wrecks you a little on the way. 

I’m looking forward to Alexi’s story!

Highly recommended and available here!

Review – The Bully

This book could be read as a stand-alone, but you’ll get more out of it if you read the first two books in the series and they’re wonderful, so why wouldn’t you?

This is the third book in Sophie Lark’s new Kingmakers series, which is dark, college-age, mafia romance. Her premise – that mafia families from all over the world send their kids to an isolated school where they become the next generation of mafia leaders – is refreshingly different, lovingly thought out and realized (I loved little touches like the classes they take in Torture Technique, Money Laundering, and Espionage), and as always with Sophie’s books, beautifully written.

The “hero” in this book, Dean, was introduced in the first book of this series as part of a love triangle, and my heart broke for him then. He’s even more tragic in this book, desperate for love and yet going about it ALL wrong. The heroine, Cat, is introduced in the second book in the series, and she’s all kinds of wonderful – clever, devious, but heartbreakingly unsure of herself. This book could be read as a stand-alone, but you’ll get more out of it if you read the first two books in the series and they’re wonderful, so why wouldn’t you?

Most of Sophie’s couples bring out the best in each other, and that’s never more true than with Dean and Cat. It’s wonderful to watch them mature into the best versions of themselves in this book. The love story is real and raw and with the constant tug of war between Dean and Cat, super-steamy.

Highly recommended and free to read in KU here.

Review – Lords of Wrath

This is the second book in the Royals of Forsyth University series. I reviewed the previous book here, which I absolutely loved. Big 5 stars.

I’m not sure how I feel about this book. I was extremely excited for it when I finished Lords of Pain. There is a disclaimer at the beginning of the book and I think sensitive readers (if any of them made it through Lords of Pain) should heed it. This book gets extremely dark, including a punishment scene that I stopped reading twice and took a break from because I found it beyond my personal squick threshold.

Overall, I think the book is good, but not great. The pacing is slightly off, with the first half dragging and the second half feeling slightly rushed, particularly the ending. The editing isn’t quite as tight as the first book, where I noticed almost no typos. There are a number in this book. They didn’t detract from my reading experience as a whole, but there were enough that I noticed. That added to my impression that the book was rushed.

Maybe the theme for this book is the adage (attributed to Confucius), “seek revenge and you should dig two graves, one for your yourself.” There’s a ton of revenge going on in these 300 pages. (The book felt much longer than that, perhaps because I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to.) The heroine gets revenge on her bullies, but her whole “plan” struck a sour note with me. I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the heroine’s revenge in the Rich Boys of Burberry Prep series or the heroine’s refusal to stoop in the Hannaford Prep series. There’s a point where one of the boys says the heroine has two M.O.s, run or make things worse. Unfortunately, that’s true from a plot perspective. When the heroine finally stops running and makes a stand against the boys, her revenge plan is just, frankly, stupid. There was no way the boys weren’t going to figure out it was her, and when they did, their retaliation went beyond sadistic into dehumanising. I can’t see any believable happy ending for these characters after that.

There are also some D/s undertones in this book, particularly between Tristian and the heroine, where he tries to “train” her by giving her aftercare and incentivising her submission. There’s a particularly ugly kink theory that involves “breaking” a submissive, reducing the submissive to the point where nothing but the dominant’s will matters. As this literally strips the submissive of the ability to consent, I’m very wary of this theory, and it felt like that underrode this book in a way that made me uncomfortable. Whether it was conscious or not on the part of the authors, the boys do break the heroine. It’s unclear to me if, by the end, she’s starting to take control and build herself back up. The final scene with between the heroine and the boys suggests she is, but it felt more like a submissive returning to an abusive relationship and trying to negotiate some limits on her abuse instead of the heroine reclaiming her agency. I guess the third book will tell, but I’m not nearly as excited about it as I was for this book.

Lords of Wrath is on Amazon and free to read in Kindle Unlimited here.

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