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August 2021 Reviews

Neon Gods, Dark Olympus Book #1
(Modern Hades & Persephone Retelling)
by Katee Robert
 
Summary

He was supposed to be a myth.

 

But from the moment I crossed the River Styx and fell under his dark spell...he was, quite simply, mine.

*A scorchingly hot modern retelling of Hades and Persephone that's as sinful as it is sweet.*

Society darling Persephone Dimitriou plans to flee the ultra-modern city of Olympus and start over far from the backstabbing politics of the Thirteen Houses. But all that's ripped away when her mother ambushes her with an engagement to Zeus, the dangerous power behind their glittering city's dark facade.

With no options left, Persephone flees to the forbidden undercity and makes a devil's bargain with a man she once believed a myth...a man who awakens her to a world she never knew existed.

Hades has spent his life in the shadows, and he has no intention of stepping into the light. But when he finds that Persephone can offer a little slice of the revenge he's spent years craving, it's all the excuse he needs to help her—for a price. Yet every breathless night spent tangled together has given Hades a taste for Persephone, and he'll go to war with Olympus itself to keep her close...

 
My Review

I think calling this a modern retelling of the myth is a stretch. As someone who LOVES mythology and true retellings, this was far off the mark. If I am reading a book with Hades in it, I want him to live up to certain perceptions. I want him to be more intimidating than an accountant. There were a LOT of frustrating elements of this story. The dialogue was sickly sweet and read as if it had been regurgitated from every other romance book I’ve read in this genre—there was nothing fresh and engaging about it. And the way Hades mothered Persephone over the cuts on her feet was over the top and repetitive. It wasn’t sexy or alluring. For some reason this foot-care-scenario bothered me more than anything else. 

 

I liked Persephone’s character and her relationships with her sisters. These aspects drew me in from the beginning. I especially liked the setup of Persephone’s initial intrigue with Hades, always wondering what his statue looked like beneath its cover. The escape scene was paced well and made me deeply care about each of her sisters’ wellbeing, with each of them willing to go out on a ledge for her, so to speak. These relationships provided good means for Persephone’s later motivations. As an MC, she had inspiring directness and an admirable ability to scheme and plot with the best of those in the Upper City. I really liked her openness in exploring new things with Hades and speaking up when anything made her uncomfortable. The trust between them was a nice, stable current throughout. 

 

The concept of the Thirteen and the Upper City and Lower City was interesting, but didn’t hold the same sort of dramatic weight as such original landscapes like Mt. Olympus and the Underworld. It didn’t bring the reader along through any real threat or danger; it read like it could have been any old city. I just kept wanting it to be grittier, and for the setting to come to life and become a more active part of the story. This fell flat for me. 

 

The supporting cast was a needed layer of mystery and interest, especially Hermes and Dionysus. Their relationships with Hades added a humanizing element to him that helped establish a bit about his personality and aided in gaining Persephone’s trust. I enjoyed their comic relief, but would have loved to see more about them and the circumstances with the Thirteen built out. The fact that so many people didn’t know that Hades existed was a great storyline that was mostly glossed over. There seemed to be several ripe opportunities for diving into richer context and world-building that weren’t explored.

 

The attraction between Hades and Persephone was well done. All of their sex scenes were nice and steamy. It was just everything else that didn’t live up to the hype. If you’re in the mood for a light, gushy, romance with decent sex scenes, this could be a fit. If you are looking for something more along the lines of a Sarah J. Maas book, keep looking. 

 
 
Not So Fake, The Real Thing Book #1 (Contemporary MM)
by Emma Lyon
 
Summary

Lane

As the son of a Congressman running for Senate, the last thing I need is to cause scandal for my father. But when I need a date to my ex-boyfriend’s wedding, a friend convinces me to use a dating service. Who's going to know?

 

What I didn’t expect was a blisteringly hot fake boyfriend I can’t stop thinking about. Zach is handsome, charming, and makes my heart race, and when one date turns into two, it suddenly doesn’t feel so fake. But my last boyfriend ended up married to someone else. I’m not sure I’m ready to take another chance on love so soon.

 

Zach

All I wanted was to make enough money to put myself through law school. If working for a dating service helps me do that, who cares if I’m dating guys for money? It’s not like I have time for the real thing. But the more time I spend with Lane, the more my plans fly out the window. He’s beautiful, smart, and sexy as hell. Our relationship might be fake, but everything about us feels real. But his father’s position makes things a whole lot more complicated.

 

Complicated wasn’t the plan, and a real relationship was never part of the deal. But I’m starting to think Lane is worth it. When our lies finally catch up with us, it’s either play it safe or take a chance on the real thing.

 
My Review

I really liked this book. This trope almost always works for me. I loved reading about their first moments seeing each other (even though it was perhaps random that Zach noticed Lane at the bar and then the scene ended and the story moved on. Idk, maybe a wasted opportunity for something?) 

Zach’s cool and casual demeanor stood out for me when they finally did meet in person. I was impressed with his ability to stay so composed, especially while lit up with a strong attraction for Lane.

 

Their date progressed differently than I expected, and I liked that surprise and how their evening turned out. I was right there with Lane hoping for something to come of it sooner rather than later.

 

Both main characters were down-to-earth and likeable, and it was easy to see how they would be drawn to each other. Their chemistry was potent from the beginning, with good flirting scenes and build of sexual tension. Their relationship developed somewhat smoothly after that, considering. They fell into boyfriend roles quickly and Lyon did a nice job of presenting all the emotions that come along with a budding romance: the nerves, and doubts, and butterflies, and excitement. It was all there, and made for a fun and entertaining read. And I LOVED how tactile Zach was—all that those casual touches were pretty swoonworthy.

 

The plot and character development worked for this book. There isn’t anything that went too deep, but I felt like I had enough to sink into the story and enjoy it for what it was. Lane’s father played a predictable foil, stirring up conflict at the end. This caused Zach’s steady and confident personality to falter, which felt a tad out of character. The ending had predictable pitfalls and highpoints, but I still enjoyed it. I would have loved more time with Zach’s family at the end (and maybe a scene there with Lane). Zach’s time with them felt a bit squished in with meeting so many new characters without much substance. 

 

I also didn’t think the interactions at the end with Bryce were needed. Those felt random and unnecessary, and were maybe added to cause some angst, but read as mostly flat and as a diversion from the story’s focus. 

 

All in all, this was an easy, fun read, with a well done romance, hot sexual tension and good sex scenes.  

 
 
The Kiss Thief (NA Dark Romance)
by L.J. Shen
 
Summary

They say your first kiss should be earned.

 

Mine was stolen by a devil in a masquerade mask under the black Chicago sky.

 

They say the vows you take on your wedding day are sacred.

 

Mine were broken before we left church.

 

They say your heart only beats for one man.

 

Mine split and bled for two rivals who fought for it until the bitter end.

 

I was promised to Angelo Bandini, the heir to one of the most powerful families in the Chicago Outfit.

 

Then taken by Senator Wolfe Keaton, who held my father’s sins over his head to force me into marriage.

 

They say that all great love stories have a happy ending.

 

I, Francesca Rossi, found myself erasing and rewriting mine until the very last chapter.

 

One kiss.

Two men.

Three lives.

Entwined together.

 

And somewhere between these two men, I had to find my forever.

 
My Review

Sooooo, I thought I’d give this book a try as it had several genuine-sounding promotional plugs with a somewhat vague recap of highlights at the beginning, like: 

"Instantly Have You Addicted" - Oprah Magazine

#1 Contemporary Romance

#1 New Adult Romance

Amazon Charts Bestseller

Washington Post Bestseller

(I believe it was also voted Goodreads 2019 best romance)

 

This was a tough one. I hate giving one-star reviews. I hate it. I know that it’s not easy to compose a book and construct flawed characters in a deep and nuanced way that allows readers to still connect with them despite selfish and destructive behaviors toward themselves and others. I saw the polarized reviews prior to reading, but was intrigued enough by the plot to read it anyway and form my own opinion. 

 

I have read a lot of darker themes, captive scenarios, scenes with questionable consent, but never have I felt so viscerally and perpetually uncomfortable and disturbed while reading a book. I think, for me, the difference in this story was that Francesca had never had an honest relationship (including with her parents) and had never even had a friend, and on top of that lacked any clear sense of will. Her perception of a healthy relationship was made up of assumptions and obscure observations, since it was not something she had been able to experience in her life—and I mean at all. She was young (nineteen) and was not permitted to go to college or pursue a career. She wasn’t able to date or really interact outside of her immediate family (except with her one cousin) and the mob group that her father ran. She had no concept of freedom or integrity or equality or respect or human decency. She was a pawn. She was disposable. She was trapped. She was consistently abused: mentally and emotionally, and eventually physically. I didn’t blame her for navigating certain situations through that lens, but good lord, those circumstances seemed to be leveraged as a way to make what happens to her acceptable. Especially in the midst of real life current affairs, this hit home in a potently unappealing way - seeming to aggrandize and romanticize human trafficking, abuse, severely unbalanced power dynamics, and rape. She thought that the only way that she could prove a point and, in some twisted logic save her pride, was to have sex with him. That is not consent. And, it’s the presented justification for it that was really what bothered me most. Call it what it is. Do not attempt to rationalize these circumstances as her being the right fit for his severely traumatized soul. It is incredibly damaging behavior. And, it never evolved. 

 

As for Wolfe, there was nothing complex or intriguing about the presentation of his character. The intent may have been there, but it was a huge miss for me. I found him grossly unappealing. He’s a misogynistic asshole. Period. His cruelty was not edged with layered sarcasm or used in nuanced banter with an equal, it was degrading and demoralizing. No matter the loss and grief he had suffered. 

 

I was 100% at a loss as to how Francesca’s feelings developed for him. She went from being so lovesick over Angelo and desperate to free herself from being locked up in Wolfe’s mansion, fully ignored by him when he wasn’t berating her, that she refused to eat for days...Days! Even though she somehow had the energy to go to a dinner function and garden in the sun all day. Idk...wth? 

 

If this were a film, every scene would be washed in a dark gray filter. If this were a soundtrack, it would be the distinct pounding of discordant notes. Each interaction further unsettled every moral fiber in my being. I try really hard not to stop reading a book, but this was a rough one to finish. 

 

Ultimately, I think what bothered me most was the level of enthusiasm and praise for this book, because it seems truly alarming that more red flags weren’t thrown. I’m not really sure what else to say, other than if you’re looking for a well-written and precisely-constructed enemies-to-lovers story - this is not it. If you are a fan of captive and captor romances - read at your own risk. I cannot in any way recommend this book.