I read a book: Her Orc Warrior (Black Bear Clan #3), by Zoe Ashwood

This is the third book in the Black Bear Clan series by Zoe Ashwood. Normally I wouldn’t start a series at book 3, but this is an ARC and I’m on a deadline. That said, books in this series read well on their own. While there are references to characters from other books, the stories stand alone fine.

As I’ve mentioned in most of my monster romance reviews, I read Ruby Dixon’s entire catalog over the course of a year and have been chasing that vibe ever since. I’m looking for well written stories with cinnamon roll male main characters and interesting female leads. They can be grumpy. They can have issues they need to work through. In fact, I prefer it. But I don’t like the whole alphahole trope that seems to be wildly popular. That extreme possessiveness and jealousy just doesn’t do it for me. I don’t want to read about men who are unkind to women, even if they don’t mean to be. I have come across that with other orc or alien series and didn’t continue beyond the first books of those series. It’s so nice to come across orcs that are kind and loving but still fierce warriors bent on protecting their own. Ashwood’s Black Bear Clan checks off a lot of boxes for me.

This is the story of a woman (Hazel) who grabs her young child (Wren) and runs in hopes of escaping her life of crime and abuse and sparing her daughter of the same. They hide in covered wagon, hitching a ride out of town unnoticed by her gang boss and authorities. She is not unnoticed by the driver though, an orc named Vark. Naturally Hazel is frightened and plans to run from him as soon as possible. She only knows orcs by the stories she’d grown up hearing and none paint orcs in a positive light. It takes her a while to trust the orcs, especially after Vark tells her that she is his fated mate, but she gives it a chance.

I loved most of the characters. Hazel is strong and independent. She finds herself attracted to Vark but doesn’t jump straight to the HEA. She struggles with her feelings. Vark is kind and attentive in all things. He is also dealing with his own feelings of inadequacy. He knows that she is his mate but does not push her. He never tells her that this is how it is and she has to deal with it, as is often the case in other fated mates type stories. He and the other orcs slip into caregiver roles for Wren naturally. There is no big conversation about it, it just happens. Hazel and Wren need help and the orcs take them in happily. Vark is drawn to Hazel by the fated mates thing, but there is never any condition on her to cooperate in exchange for their safety. I also liked that it doesn’t end in pregnancy. A fated mate that isn’t all about popping out more babies is my kind of HEA.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I really liked this book. It left me feeling happy and hopeful and that’s the best way to feel after reading a romance book. I’ll be going back to read the first two and following the series as it moves forward.

Big thanks to Zoe Ashwood and Booksprout for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order Her Orc Warrior on Amazon and begin reading it on November 11. This will also be available as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Monthly roundup – October 2022

Spooktober was filled with mostly great reads. I read horror year round, so this month wasn’t really different except that I hosted two Book Lovers Cafe group reads because my first choice didn’t win. My insistence on exposing the masses to extreme horror (and doing 31 days of horror movies) did get in the way of my usual schedule, so I didn’t get to everything I had planned. However, I did get to a bunch that have been on my tbr for a while (and they were amazing!) so I consider it a win.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️:
A Soul to Keep, by Opal Reyne
Full Brutal, by Kristopher Triana
The Troop, by Nick Cutter
Gyo, by Junji Ito
The Girl on the Glider, by Brian Keene

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️:
The Tooth Fairy, by Davide Tarsitano
The Haunting of Ashburn House, by Darcy Coates
Lil’ Bastard, by Matt Shaw
The People Look Like Flowers at Last, by Charles Bukowski
Morning Glory Milking Farm, by C.M. Nascosta

⭐️⭐️⭐️:
Against the Lockers, by Aiden E. Messner
Jokes to Offend Men, by Allison Kelley, etc
When the Dark Spoke to Me, by Christabelle Marbun
Heartstopper Vol 4, by Alice Oseman

The rest kinda sucked. Two were Halloween themed monster romances that are actually pretty well liked on Goodreads. They just didn’t do it for me. One was straight up bad. Honestly don’t even remember how I came across the Hucow stuff. I don’t think I’ll do that again. And the last one was Little Women, but with vampire references woven in. I was not impressed.

Pictured but not rated: Island of the Dead, by Brian Keene. This is not actually a book, it is a Kindle Vella series. The story was interesting, but I kinda hate the serial format.

All of my four and five star reads have been on my tbr for a while and all were amazing. Several of those authors were already on my insta-buy list and now the rest are as well. Beyond that, the only one I’m interested in reading again is Messner. I feel like they’re gonna be one of those writers who just gets better. Time will tell.

On the agenda for November? One book club read (thriller), two Cool Ghouls books, the backlog of loaners from my enabler, the next Duskwalker Bride book, and hopefully several from my NetGalley shelf. I have a few Thanksgiving themed horror books and movies to share. Holiday baking. Dragonflight! Lots of fun stuff coming up.

I read a book: The Haunting of Ashburn House, by Darcy Coates

This is the book that Book Lovers Cafe chose for October book club. It wasn’t the one that I wanted, so I’ve been reading just about everything else before deciding to start this one. I started this morning and probably would have finished before the work day is over if it wasn’t for an afternoon staff meeting. It is way more interesting than I expected. Fair warning, there may be spoilers in this review.

I’m generally not into ghost stories. Ghosts are one of those things that I have trouble suspending disbelief enough to enjoy. Other monsters are fantastical. No one believes zombies or vampires are real. But there are plenty of people who believe in ghosts, because most religions include some kind of afterlife. I am still nowhere near on board with the whole afterlife thing, but I’m loosening up on my stance on ghost stories. After all, I did love the show Supernatural, including the huge angels vs demons arc. Maybe I can accept ghosts as a fictional monster without considering the real life implications.

That said, (minor spoiler) this isn’t even a ghost story. It’s not a haunting in that sense. Not really. I mean it is, and it isn’t. This is the story of a young woman named Adrienne who inherits an old house in a little town from an old relative she met only once as a small child. Because of the tragic deaths of the family who once lived there (her elderly aunt’s family), the townspeople believe the house is haunted. After a series of strange inexplicable (and terrifying) events, Adrienne learns that the house is in fact haunted, just not in the way she thinks. Things get pretty scary for our heroine for a while. Will the evil forces at work triumph? There were parts that I definitely didn’t see coming. I engaged in discussion before getting too far into the book and a big part of it was revealed to me, which was fine by me because I actually love spoilers. I actively seek them out. This spoiler fueled my interest, because as I mentioned earlier, I’m not big on ghost stories.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. I’m glad I read this book, despite the fact that it wasn’t my first choice. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m happy to see that Darcy Coates has a large catalog and many of her books are available as part of my Kindle Unlimited subscription.

I read a book: Lil Bastard, by Matt Shaw

Just finished one of Matt Shaw’s many novellas. Lil Bastard is told from the perspective of a baby who remembers being being other people and is bitter and angry as fuck. He spends his days plotting to kill, but of course he is a baby so his options are limited. That doesn’t discourage him though. The story takes an unexpected turn, but comes full circle. I laughed out loud at several points. The baby talk translations cracked me up.

⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 read for me. This is not for everyone, but it is for me. If you like extreme horror and dark (really dark) humor, you’ll like this.

You can read lots of Matt Shaw’s work through your Kindle Unlimited subscription, or buy his books on Amazon.

I read a book: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

I put off reading The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins for a long time. It was published long after my YA days and was often mentioned adjacent to the hype of other popular YA series of the time that I was completely uninterested in for various reasons. My kid was never interested in it, so I didn’t have it on our shelves. There are some from that era that I loved (Divergent, The Giver), some that I will get to eventually (The Maze Runner, everything Rick Riordan has ever written), and others yet that I will never read (Harry Potter). If you’re sensing a pattern here, it’s because there is one. I like bleak dystopian stories and demigods and I don’t care about child wizards written by turds.

My knowledge of The Hunger Games was limited to what I’d gleaned from memes and Jennifer Lawrence’s appearances on late night comedy interview shows. I never read a synopsis and never saw the movies (not even clips!). I picked this up on a whim while browsing Kindle Unlimited. And because I enjoy listening to the audiobook while I read along, I checked it out from the library on Libby. Reading can be an expensive hobby if you buy every book you read. I read so much and am eternally grateful for the existence of libraries, not only because I have the joy of working at a great one, but because I don’t have to buy as many books as I read.

So, the games. This story takes place in a place called Panem, which is a post apocalyptic North America. There’s a huge gap between the haves and the have nots. Katniss and her family have not, and she spends her days illegally hunting game in the woods outside her district and then hustling to sell what her family doesn’t need. The game itself is a fight to the death. The contestants are children, whose names are basically drawn from a hat. Scrawny little 10 year olds are pitted against brawny teenagers. All these kids are thrown into an arena that looks like a forest that the game masters have complete control over, given minimal opportunities to acquire survival supplies, and everyone else must watch these kids kill each other off until one remains. If they aren’t killing each other fast enough, the game masters will trigger things like forest fires or torrential rains. It’s like a weird reality show and the prize is survival and PTSD. And what is the point of the game? Why do they have to go through this year after year? It is never really spun in a positive light, as the story is told by Katniss. The games exist to remind people of how good(?) they have it after the remaining population was districted off. Remember how we used to fight for our own survival by reliving it year after year. But the people are smarter than that and understand that the games are a means of control.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. I thought this book was great. While the premise is about the deaths of many children fighting each other for survival, I didn’t feel like it was overly violent or gory, and the reactions of our heroine were realistic. I felt like a spectator rooting for my district representative to win. The ending is the beginning of a whole new trial for Katniss. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that considering that there are two more books in the series. And I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.

You can borrow The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins from Kindle Unlimited, your local library, or buy it at any major bookseller.

I read a book: Or Else, by Joe Hart

There was a lot that I liked about this book. Every time the main character thought he had figured it out, new info would pop up and he’d be back where he started. And then when the case was considered solved, the reader gets a glimpse at what really happened. But is that what really happened? Or just Andy’s writer brain writing up a more interesting ending? Either way, I find both endings satisfying enough.

I also enjoyed the idea of a mystery book author who lives out a real life mystery and makes all the mistakes he’d never write into his books. There were so many times I found myself saying “Oh, Andy…no….” and the like. Which. Is fun.

That last line cracked me up. Andy doesn’t know when to quit.

⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 stars for me. This was an Amazon First Reads choice recently. If you picked it up because it was free, maybe read it? It’s short and fast paced and pretty good.

I read a book: The Pet Project, by Amanda Milo

Really cool concept.

The titular Pet Project is an alien species’ attempt at domesticating abducted humans. They call the human pets “tenders” because of their tender skin. The story is told from a Cryptop scientist’s point of view.

There are some things that make it difficult to suspend disbelief enough to make the story make sense. The Cryptops are working under the assumption that the tenders are not sentient and describe them in the way one might describe a dog. The longer the scientist works with his little herd, the more he notices that they seem to have languages and that not all tenders speak the same language. He also notices that they seem to understand him in a way that seems to be more than just reading his body language. They respond to him, sometimes verbally and other times just by doing what he says. What I don’t understand is how these aliens came to Earth and saw everything the tenders had built and how they lived and thought they were not sentient, that they were not people. The scientist seems to ignore how they understand him and each other. I guess acknowledging that they are people would put the breeding program at risk, because at that point they are not pets. They are slaves. Which, from the reader’s perspective, they absolutely are slaves.

Props to the author for writing a story about a human breeding project that doesn’t involve any aliens sexually abusing the human pets. (Not entirely true if you take into account the forced breeding between an unwilling pair, but at least the alien isn’t using them as living fleshlights.) The scientist actually cares about his tenders enough to (eventually) choose their own partners. There are some dark scenes that lead up to that.

When I read what I just wrote, it seems like I hated this book. But I didn’t. I actually liked it quite a bit and will read the rest of the series. I almost wish it was more fleshed out, novella length rather than a short story, because there are details and world/character building missing that left me wanting.

⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. That’s a lot of words for “I liked it and want more, but I’m conflicted.”

You can find The Pet Project, by Amanda Milo on Amazon available as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription, buy it for 99c, or grab the audiobook.

I read a book: The Heiress and the Orc (Orc Sworn #2), by Finley Fenn

Again with the orc-pricks and buckets of seed and other decidedly unsexy descriptions. Again with the lies upon lies upon lies. Again with men and orcs using wealthy women against each other for personal and political gain. Again with the women who take way too long to find their voices.

Very spicy, but I find most of the scenes lacking. These orc dudes will lick a lass from asshole to vulva but don’t spend any time on the clit. Orc-pricks in the butt without any foreplay/prep. I guess they’re dripping with natural lube? I guess. The spice is fine if you let yourself get caught up in the orc magic and just go along for the ride.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. So why 4 stars? I really enjoyed the storytelling. It’s like a soap opera. It’s ridiculous and dramatic and will have you screaming at the characters when they do or say something dumb. It’s fun, and I’m here for it.

You can find The Heiress and the Orc, by Finley Fenn on Amazon as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription or for sale in various formats.

I read a book: The Lady and the Orc (Orc Sworn #1), by Finley Fenn

100% picked up this book because I’ve seen Ruby Dixon mention liking the author. This book did not disappoint.

That said, if you are also reading this on the recommendation of the aforementioned author, don’t go into this thinking it will be anything like her work. The orcs of Fenn’s world are not the doting himbos of Dixon’s world. Their happily ever afters are hard earned and require work, compromise, and understanding on both parts to continue into the ever after. While there is a mating bond that makes them want each other, there is no magic that makes them love each other. They have to work at it. They make mistakes. In this book, our hero lies and withholds information, and eventually puts his needs ahead of hers and betrays her. But he is learning and so is she. There is so much to say about that, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. There were parts that legit had me crying because I was feeling the characters’ emotions. I am not a cryer.

My main gripe with this book was the use of the word “orc-prick” and emphasis on his seed. Seed pouring from him before the act, seed flooding out afterward, drinking his seed to make the baby strong. I’ll chalk that up to being #justorcthings.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. This was really good. I’m looking forward to finding out what the rest of the series has to offer.

You can find The Lady and the Orc, by Finley Fenn on Amazon as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription or for sale in various formats.

I read a book: Captive of the Horde King (Horde Kings of Dakkar, #1), by Zoey Draven

I really enjoyed this. Big Dothraki in space vibes. Not a whole lot of spice compared to my favorite ridiculous smut (my blue barbarian babes know what I’m talking about), but enough to break the tension in the story…which is apparently the role of the Horde queen anyway. It works.

My one gripe is that there is a lot of story building that happens off the page. They talk about their cultural differences and clear up a lot of stuff…but we are not privy to those conversations. They get to know each other and fall in love but again, we don’t see most of that happening.

Still, there was enough to hook me. I am invested in this world and will likely read the rest of the series.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. Some parts were totally frustrating, but I was left feeling good about this couple and about this series.

You can find Captive of the Horde King, by Zoey Draven on Amazon as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription, or buy it for $$.