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 Librarian and the Orc (Orc Sworn #3), by Finley Fenn

It’s taken me a minute to finish this book. I’m not sure I’m into this series anymore. I really wanted to like this one because the heroine is a librarian and the orc is a scholar named John. Yeah, there are orc scholars and yes some of them have human names. If you consider the fact that these orcs need human women to procreate, it’s a wonder that a larger percentage of them don’t have human names.

So let’s start with our heroine, a young librarian named Rosa who is given the task of reading all she can about orcs and digging up some dirt that will be scandalous enough to spark a peasant rebellion. The nobles don’t want to spend money on a war, so they plot to find a way to make the peasants do all the dirty work without the expectation of a paycheck or supplies. Shortly after receiving this assignment from her creeper of a patron, she encounters an orc named John reading in the back of the library. Because of the peace treaty negotiated in the first book, John has that right and Rosa really shouldn’t ask him to leave, but she does so anyway. They come to a compromise and he is allowed to take his studies to a private room.

Of course that is not the end of it and Rosa continues to push the issue. She sees this as an opportunity to get some insider information, so she turns her negotiation to a more personal nature and offers herself up to John in exchange for information. They come to an agreement that involves some library sex and a field trip to Orc Mountain in which John vows to keep her safe and answer all her questions. The reader knows Rosa is acting as a spy and John’s motivation is unclear, though if what we know about orcs is any indication, he probably wants a mate to bear his sons.

There is a lot that I liked about this book. The relationships between orcs is expanded upon. Because they have no females and gaining the trust of human women is difficult, many orcs choose to take pleasure with one another. In the previous books, the dynamic was more like they were biding their time until they found human women to mate with. But in this book, we learn that some just prefer other orcs and take each other as their life mates. This is all very strange to each of the women we’ve met so far (I guess there are no homosexual humans?) and they are shocked to learn that their orcs have partaken in pleasure with other orcs. We get to witness healing (and sex) between one such couple, a side story that almost overshadows the main story. I know Tristan and Salvi worked things out, but I would have loved for them to have their own book. I also loved the way Rosa solved the Lord Kaspar problem and avoided the war she was assigned to start.

And then there are things that aren’t working for me anymore. The heroine gets so wrapped up in the idea that she’s been lied to when the entire purpose of her visit is a giant lie. The only thing she manages to be real about is the BDSM theme. At first she is scandalized and talks about how shameful it is to want to be afraid and want to be conquered etc. John helps her come to terms with herself and accept her truth. Cool. BDSM isn’t my thing and I am most definitely not the submissive type, so that part of the book didn’t speak to me (or titillate me). Every time she cried and ran off into the dark because she felt he’d lied to her, I rolled my eyes and sighed. Girl, everything about you is a lie. And somehow John and the orcs have known all along and forgive her and welcome her into their clan because she’s redeemed herself with her actions. There’s this big emphasis on how John’s clan does not speak vows because words can be broken and how one should be judged on their actions instead. Which, I guess. I guess I’ve just grown weary of the miscommunication trope. Why doesn’t Jule take aside all the new women and tell them that orcs don’t communicate the way humans do and you can’t expect them to understand if you don’t tell them. And at some point, maybe the women should start teaching unmated orcs how to talk to human women so they can avoid all the bullshit in the first place. I could do without all the cum guzzling though. Seriously, so many mentions of orc seed and Rosa’s amazing deep throating skill. Buckets and buckets of thick white seed. The spicy scenes are not doing it for me at all. And I find myself taken out of the moment anytime modern conversational language is slipped in with the anachronistic language used throughout. It’s a little jarring when you have orcs using words and phrases like naught and I shall and you wished but also phrases like macking on.

Still, this was a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ star read for me. Tristan and Salvi, and Simon to an extent, saved this one. The relationship between Tristan and Salvi was a shining spot in this story. The way Simon listened and learned from them and agreed to talk to his clan to work toward mending clan relations was really nice to read. And I do love a story where the heroine finds her spine (and herself) and ends up saving the day and gets the happily ever after she truly wants. Rosa and John grow individually and as a couple and when it was over, I found myself rooting for them.

That said, I think I’m going to take a break from the orcs. I did check out the next volume from KU, but it’s not a priority. I guess I’m still chasing that Ruby Dixon vibe that’s missing from my monster romance now that I’ve caught up on her entire catalog.

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 $$.

Monthly roundup – May 2022

No real stinkers this month. Once again I didn’t get through the third Wheel of Time book, but I made a decent dent in it. The big standout this month was The Keeper of Happy Endings, which surprised me because historical fiction isn’t my genre of choice. It was really good. I don’t know, maybe I’m getting a little sappy in my old age. Probably the same reason I liked The Space Between Us so much.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️:
The Space Between Us: Poetry and Prose, by Courtney Peppernell and Zack Grey
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
The Keeper of Happy Endings, by Barbara Davis
Choice, by Jodi Picoult
Fire in Her Dreams, by Ruby Dixon

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️:
Stolen Tongues, by Felix Blackwell
Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory, by Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Fire in His Chaos, by Ruby Dixon
Fire in Her Eyes, by Ruby Dixon
The Slob, by Aron Beauregard
Goldenrod: Poems, by Maggie Smith
I Live You, Call Me Back: Poems, by Sabrina Benaim
Fire in His Veins, by Ruby Dixon
Yard Work, by David Koepp

⭐️⭐️⭐️:
Winterset Hollow, by Jonathan Edward Durham
When She’s Lonely, by Ruby Dixon
The Fifth Survivor: Bacon Nightmares, by Angel Ramon
Anonymous, by Uzodinma Iweala
Ungirls, by Lauren Beukes
The Night Shift, by Alex Finlay

Winterset Hollow is pretty popular in the horror group on Facebook, so popular that there have been several posts by people with fresh tattoos if the rabbit on the cover. I wanted to love it. I usually love the books that are popular there. This one didn’t quite hit the spot for me. I know they can’t all be great, but I guess I had higher expectations for a tattoo worthy book. That said, I did like it.

On the agenda for June is that same Wheel of Time book, the last of Ruby Dixon’s dragon books, and a couple of book club selections. I may even catch up on my ARCs and finish up some drafts.

I read a book: Fire in His Blood, by Ruby Dixon

Sometime last summer I saw Ice Planet Barbarians on my Goodreads feed. I had dabbled in the romance/erotica/smutty genre many years ago but the few books I read didn’t really do anything for me so I just thought I wasn’t into it and moved on. Then I saw IPB on an old high school acquaintance’s Goodreads and I decided to give it another shot. I tore through IPB, the spin-off Ice Home, Corsairs, Corsair Brothers, and Risdaverse. That’s a lot of books featuring abducted human woman and sexy blue aliens and I loved them all. When I got through them all, I tried another monster romance by another author but didn’t love it and went back to Ruby Dixon‘s catalog. There is a drakoni in the Ice Home series, so I was familiar with them before I started the Fireblood Dragon series. The drakoni are less appealing to me than the Messakah.

Fire in His Blood describes a post apocalyptic Earth, one where a rift was opened and dragons came through, went mad, and destroyed the world as we know it. As in all post apocalyptic stories, there are human survivors spread across the world in camps that are controlled by whatever militias pop up. In most zombie apocalypse stories, those militias are usually the type who are semi-secretly preparing for the government to declare martial law in the real world. You know the type. This one didn’t specify where the militia came from, or if it did, I missed it. Anyway, this is the story of Claudia, a woman who scavenges to earn enough to keep herself, her sister, and her friend fed and sheltered. There are only two real options for women in this world, scavenging (which is against the law) and whoring. Claudia opts to lead a life of crime, which leads to her capture and incarceration by the militia. And eventual nonconsensual participation in an experiment involving women and dragons.

I’ve read some reviews and noted that many of the complaints are about Claudia and repetition, and those are valid complaints. There is a lot of repetition. And it’s all coming from Claudia and her one track mind. Her entire existence since the dragons set the world on fire has been survival and protecting her sister. So when she’s incarcerated and then forced into this experiment, the one thing she keeps thinking about is how her sister will survive without her. Most of the book is told from Claudia’s perspective and a lot of it is her thinking about how she can get back to her sister and deal with her dragon at the same time. She could have gotten swept up in the romance and left her life behind, but stayed true to herself and figured out a way to come through for her sister, with the help of her dragon of course.

While I still find the drakoni less appealing than my beloved Messakah, I did enjoy this book and will be reading the rest of the series. There isn’t a whole lot of spice, and the spice that is there is timid compared to IPB, but that’s okay. That’s one of the things I like about Dixon’s books. There’s spice, but the story is always good enough that I don’t even mind if the spice level is low. I’m looking forward to more world building, meeting more drakoni, and possibly addressing the problem of the female dragons. All of Ruby Dixon’s books that I’ve read so far feature human women and alien men, so I’m not sure if she will tackle the female dragons, but a girl can dream.