Fantasy, New Adult Romance, Paranormal, Romance

My Review: Rhapsodic (The Bargainer #1): by Laura Thalassa

Publish Date: November 15th, 2016

Number of Pages: 326 Pages

Publisher: Lavabrook Publishing Group

Genre(s): Fantasy, Paranormal, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

Having the Bargainer’s full attention is like catching a tiger’s eye. All you wanted to do was pet the creature, but as soon as it turns its gaze on you, you realize it’s simply going to tear you apart.”

– Laura Thalassa, “Rhapsodic”

If you’re someone who really enjoys the whole romantic dynamic of stories based on the classical Greek Mythology tale of Hades and Persephone, this is a series you may want to look into! It’s the story of a sweet, bright, innocent, pure young woman who finds herself in an unorthodox romantic story with the Lord/Ruler of a Dark Underworld. Opposites attract, and passions ignite when the lines are tested between what is right and wrong and the big questions are usually “Is the love for real? Will she allow this love to corrupt her and taint her?” It’s a romantic concept that I’ve seen in several other works of fiction:

  • Feyre Archeron & Rhysand in Sarah J Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series
  • Jenny & Julian in L.J. Smith’s The Forbidden Game series
  • Alina Starkov & The Darkling in Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow & Bone trilogy
  • Bella Swan & Edward Cullen in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series
  • Isobel & Prince Rook in Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens (standalone)
  • Poppy Balfour & Casteel Da’Neer in Jennifer Armentrout’s From Blood and Ash series

Heck, you could even say Beauty and the Beast is a retelling of Hades and Persephone! It’s a dynamic a lot of readers like myself never get tired of; it may be done quite a bit, but I will never ever really consider it an annoying cliché.

This book was kind of a highly anticipated read for me after plowing through Jennifer Armentrout’s first two books in her From Blood and Ash series (seriously recommend it if you haven’t read it yet!), and this book was constantly being mentioned across the Facebook groups I’m a part of for JLA’s books, and also for a Sarah J. Maas group too. If two groups are telling me to read this book, odds are I better do it!

After completing this book, I can say I enjoyed it for the most part; it wasn’t as spectacular as I was hoping it’d be, but it was still quite enjoyable to say the least! The writing wasn’t the greatest, it felt very amateurish at times to be completely honest, but that didn’t detract from the story too much. I do wish the author gave other plot aspects other than just the romance more attention, like the world-building and the mystery that’s supposed to drive the plot. However, the romance has to be my favorite part of all, and I’d say Desmond Flynn, a.k.a. “The Bargainer,” is a great choice for you to add to your “Book Boyfriend” list.

The romance that built up between the Desmond and our other main character, Callypso Lillis (Callie for short), developed through two timelines that ran parallel most of the first half of the story, one being in present time while the other took place in the past and shows you key moments between them and their developing relationship. Callie isn’t afraid to say what’s on her mind when she’s older, and isn’t afraid to use her sexuality to get what she wants. Desmond starts off arrogant, crude, cheeky and sarcastic, but as he reveals more and more to Callie as you read further on, you will definitely fall for him like any other tortured dark ruler character; his admission to Callie was by far the strongest scene in the whole book!

And the mountains may rise and fall, and the sun might wither away, and the sea may claim the land and swallow the sky. But you will always be mine. And the stars might fall from the heavens, and night might cloak the earth, but until darkness dies, I will always be yours.”

– Laura Thalassa, “Rhapsodic”

(Yes, slight spoiler, but it makes an even bigger impact when it’s read in full context in the story!)

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

Callypso Lillis is a siren with a very big problem, one that stretches up her arm and far into her past. For the last seven years she’s been collecting a bracelet of black beads up her wrist, magical IOUs for favors she’s received. Only death or repayment will fulfill the obligations. Only then will the beads disappear.

Everyone knows that if you need a favor, you go to the Bargainer to make it happen. He’s a man who can get you anything you want… at a price. And everyone knows that sooner or later he always collects.

But for one of his clients, he’s never asked for repayment. Not until now. When Callie finds the fae king of the night in her room, a grin on his lips and a twinkle in his eye, she knows things are about to change. At first it’s just a chaste kiss—a single bead’s worth—and a promise for more.

For the Bargainer, it’s more than just a matter of rekindling an old romance. Something is happening in the Otherworld. Fae warriors are going missing one by one. Only the women are returned, each in a glass casket, a child clutched to their breast. And then there are the whispers among the slaves, whispers of an evil that’s been awoken.

If the Bargainer has any hope to save his people, he’ll need the help of the siren he spurned long ago. Only, his foe has a taste for exotic creatures, and Callie just happens to be one.

What I Liked:

  1. Callie and Des’s Dynamic! Throughout this story, the two main characters/love interests have a really well done relationship that goes through much development in both the scenes in the past and in present time, and it’s very similar to the dynamics of other relationships in literature like Feyre and Rhysand through most of A Court of Mist and Fury and even Poppy and Cas in A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire. There’s some initial distrust because the male has done wrong to the girl, but as they work together and travel together, they grow closer and eventually give into their feelings for each other, but (yay), there’s plenty of snappy and sexy banter along the way too!
  2. The Whole “Bargain” Concept! I did find this whole concept to be more interesting than a lot of the rest of it. Over time, Callie has an arm long bracelet that has over 300 beads of all the deals she owes The Bargainer at some point. The author could’ve played with the idea more and had more wicked fun with Des teasing her or making her do some pretty risque actions or even confess some more juicy secrets, but I feel like that would also reach into him compelling her against her will, which I bet wouldn’t sit well with a lot of readers, so there’s that…I’m not sure this concept will really carry over as much into the next books based on how this one developed, but we’ll see!
  3. The Romance Development! It’s what got the most attention from the author, so at least it’s safe to say that it was probably the best part of the whole book! It developed with The Bargainer being summoned by her when she’s a teenager, to when she’s a young woman in college, and to now when she’s a PI in Los Angeles. He sees her in all the biggest parts of her life: the young/naive victim, the angsty young woman, and the brash and courageous siren she becomes later on. As they grow closer, the chemistry boils over and they can’t help but act upon their hidden fantasies, and without spoiling it, the scene where they confess their true feelings will definitely tug at your heartstrings!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Writing Style…I’m not gonna lie, the writing felt quite amateurish throughout this book. A lot of adverbs were used that bothered even me, and that was the main thing that stuck out, but it felt like I was reading someone’s ACOTAR fanfic off AO3 that somehow got published.
  2. The Mystery Felt Underdeveloped…The big inciting incident is Callie discovering that in Des’s world, bodies of women are being returned in glass coffins and in comas with a child cuddled up next to them, and that there’s a mysterious, shadowy figure who may or may not be on the hunt for her, but I feel like this whole mystery was really not given all that much attention to the actual plot. The author made it way too easy to figure out and didn’t really excite me all that much or keep me guessing, too much focus was on the romance.
  3. The Worldbuilding Is Also Lacking…During one of Des’s and Callie’s conversations, he talks in detail about the world of the Fae, which to give the author credit, sounds actually pretty intriguing with some more original sounding courts! Unfortunately, That’s about it as far as how much you actually see of it. Take this with a grain of salt though, A Court of Thorns and Roses was the exact same way where there was a LOT more world-building in the second book!
  4. Where Did The Sidekick Go?…Callie has a BFF/business partner named Temper, who’s an incredibly powerful witch. First, she’s the typical POC sidekick we’ve seen so many times before. Second, she’s only in the book, like, twice it feels like and shows up more often in the form of a phone call whenever Callie needs advice or just to vent to someone. Third, the author constantly mentions how powerful and how dangerous she is, but we never actually see her doing anything! Wasted opportunity there, I seriously hope she becomes more prominent in the next books.

Conclusion:

Overall, I by no means think this is a perfect book, but it’s definitely a great addition for anyone to consider adding it to their “To Read” shelf if they love the concept of what I recognize as the Hades/Persephone love story dynamic. It’s seen in a lot of Fantasy and Paranormal Romance stories: my examples once again are Feyre and Rhysand from Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series, Casteel and Poppy from Jennifer L. Armentrout’s newest series, From Blood and Ash, and even a little similar to Mac and Barrons from Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series. If you’re a fan of any of those titles, this book will definitely appeal to you!

The romance is purely the only thing keeping me interested in going on with these books, so my fingers are crossed that the author gives more attention to OTHER aspects of her story that she didn’t this first time around: the world-building, her minor characters, and even adding more to the main conflict.

I for sure plan on reading the next books down the line, but I wouldn’t say I’m salivating over how soon I can get my hands on the next title either, I’d say I’m lukewarm-on-the-verge of being curious. There wasn’t too much of a cliffhanger ending—thank god—so I’ll probably be exploring other stories before I choose to get into the second book of The Bargainer series, but be on the lookout for my review of that to pop up on here soon!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance, Paranormal, Romance

My Review: A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire (Blood and Ash #2): by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Publish Date: September 1st, 2020

Number of Pages: 697 Pages

Publisher: Blue Box Press

Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance

***Warning!!! This review contains spoilers from this book/the previous book in this series, so read on at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!!***

To see my review for book #1 – From Blood and Ash – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the series so far – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

I seriously love those moments when the sequel surpasses the first book!

From Blood and Ash, the first book of this series that only released earlier this year, was an amazing gem that I had no idea I was going to love so much when I’d ordered my copy on my Kindle, but here I am now in love with just about everything about it: Poppy, Hawke/Casteel, the entire kingdom, the romance, the smut, and I only have one other person to talk to it about in real life! This book somehow got even bigger and better with of all those aspects, and I had to make sure I went through at a slower pace than before to savor it all instead of blasting through it as quickly as possible.

But oh……My………Goodness! You guys, I seriously can’t recommend this book, no this series, enough!

I’m quickly becoming a huge fan of books that aren’t traditionally published because they are turning out to just be more impressive stories that really grab my attention nowadays. That, plus they don’t have to worry as much with the guidelines and restrictions that I’m sure those big publishers limit their works with. I could totally just be speculating on that, but that’s how it feels like!

I’m still just blown away by how the author was able to pound out these first two books all within the same year, because these books are thicccc! Like, both are over 600 pages but released only a few months away from each other! Either the author had this all written way before hand, or she’s one of those authors that really benefited from quarantine, and just locked herself away to write, write, write! I wish I was like that, but all the anxiety and depression that’s come from the disaster that is the year 2020 has made it seemingly impossible to be able to concentrate on my own WIP’s.

Okay, enough tangents, back to the story!

Like I was saying before, this sequel is even bigger and badder than the previous book, and overall it includes everything you loved about the previous book, but at an even more elevated level. More information gets revealed, more secrets get out, and the romance still develops at an oh-so-achingly delicious slow burn that readers love and hate at the same time. The story still has its slower moments, but this time there are a lot more bloody battles to make it have a much more exciting, roller-coaster type of pacing. Sure, it felt like the battles were over way too quickly and could’ve been more descriptive, but they were still quite exciting!

The story continues off immediately from the final line of the previous book, where Hawke/Casteel threw us all a wicked curveball of a marriage proposal. Poppy is still fresh off the epic betrayal she feels with him and his whole shocking reveal of being the Dark One/The Atlantian Prince.

Things are incredibly tense—understandably—but both have something to gain from this more…unorthodox of partnerships: both want their brothers back from the clutches of the Ascended Vamprys in their capital city. With the growing threat of those she used to live under the same roof with in danger, she also has to deal with being hated and unaccepted for being an outsider from the Atlantian people along with her incredibly conflicted feelings for Casteel. She doesn’t want to want him, but oh boy she is hooked whether she likes it or not!

The romance, of course, was a big highlight of the whole book! The banter, the admissions of feelings (eventually), the love scenes; pretty much almost everything about it was what had me glued to the pages whenever I picked it up. I dare anyone to not absolutely fall for Hawke/Casteel after reading these books and put him on all of your Book Boyfriends lists, I know he’s on mine! He just becomes so much more complex here, and is now such a much stronger character than just simply being the personal bodyguard who’s sworn to protect the Maiden. Know that he’s this dark prince with paranormal abilities, he’s just so much more interesting this time around. I never thought I’d fall for a vampire prince in 2020, and I usually avoid vampire/werewolf books like the plague, so that says a lot about how good these books are if I can so easily look past those paranormal clichés occurring here.

The beginning felt like it was getting close to info-dump territory, at least within the first 200 pages or so, but it wasn’t too bad as I’ve definitely dealt with worse in other books. After that, it’s not even noticeable and it’s all more about the worldbuilding that the author does to enrich us with the lay of the land and learn more about the history, which has a lot more depth than I gave it credit for in the previous book! This time around, the threat of ancient gods about to enter the battle certainly raises the stakes.

I don’t want to give too much else away because anyone who’s interested in this series absolutely NEEDS to go get a copy of this book and read it immediately, plus there’s still plenty of the rest of my review to read!

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

A Betrayal…

Everything Poppy has ever believed in is a lie, including the man she was falling in love with. Thrust among those who see her as a symbol of a monstrous kingdom, she barely knows who she is without the veil of the Maiden. But what she does know is that nothing is as dangerous to her as him. The Dark One. The Prince of Atlantia. He wants her to fight him, and that’s one order she’s more than happy to obey. He may have taken her, but he will never have her.

A Choice…

Casteel Da’Neer is known by many names and many faces. His lies are as seductive as his touch. His truths as sensual as his bite. Poppy knows better than to trust him. He needs her alive, healthy, and whole to achieve his goals. But he’s the only way for her to get what she wants—to find her brother Ian and see for herself if he has become a soulless Ascended. Working with Casteel instead of against him presents its own risks. He still tempts her with every breath, offering up all she’s ever wanted. Casteel has plans for her. Ones that could expose her to unimaginable pleasure and unfathomable pain. Plans that will force her to look beyond everything she thought she knew about herself—about him. Plans that could bind their lives together in unexpected ways that neither kingdom is prepared for. And she’s far too reckless, too hungry, to resist the temptation.

A Secret…

But unrest has grown in Atlantia as they await the return of their Prince. Whispers of war have become stronger, and Poppy is at the very heart of it all. The King wants to use her to send a message. The Descenters want her dead. The wolven are growing more unpredictable. And as her abilities to feel pain and emotion begin to grow and strengthen, the Atlantians start to fear her. Dark secrets are at play, ones steeped in the blood-drenched sins of two kingdoms that would do anything to keep the truth hidden. But when the earth begins to shake, and the skies start to bleed, it may already be too late. 

What I Liked:

  1. Kieran Must Be Protected At All Costs! I’m not gonna lie, but I thought Kieran was a total creep in the first book, and felt like something was way off about him the entire time. Turns out I wasn’t completely wrong, but luckily he really grew on me in this book, and I believe the whole fandom can agree with me on that! I still believe there’s some social awkwardness there, but it’s also so hilarious how DONE he is with the angst between our two main characters that can’t admit their real feelings to each other. He’s incredibly sarcastic, bacon is his favorite food, and he loves to give Poppy a hard time about all the questions she likes to ask, but now he’s just one more thing to absolutely adore about this series! Plus, there’s the spirited debate amongst the fandom whether he should get involved with Cas and Poppy in some NSFW activities due to his Wolven bond with Casteel, plus the author totally played with the idea of it maybe happening…I for one am totally for polyamorous relationships. It’s 2020, so why not?
  2. Cas & Poppy’s Chemistry! This author knows how to write such good romance! Wowza! Literally everything pertaining to the romantic dynamic between Cas and Poppy was done to near perfection: from the beginning of the story with the betrayal and reveal of his true identity still cutting fresh wounds in Poppy’s heart, to their slow and steady reconciliation, then their absolutely scorching love scenes, to the heartfelt admissions…ugh….it was all just so good, for sure a gigantic highlight of the book! Casteel is definitely up there on the growing list of Book Boyfriends, and like my friend Erika—who’s also read these books—said, he may even be better than the famous Rhysand from Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series! That’s right, you just read that. With his demeanor, to how everyone acts towards him, to his obvious affection towards Poppy, plus his backstory that slowly gets revealed, I totally agree, and wonder how anyone could not absolutely fall for this lonely, dark prince! It’s just a shame that not as many readers will really read this series and get to know about him because it isn’t really published in the most mainstream way, and won’t have as much exposure because of it. The thing I will definitely give to the author that she does better than SJMaas is how the love scenes don’t fall short. Both authors are amazing at the sensuous buildup and tension between the two characters, but one thing I do sometimes notice with Maas is the eventual scene where the characters finally hookup just doesn’t live up to the hype. Whether it’s the word choice because she had to be careful not to get too graphic since her books are YA , or she’s just not good at that particular aspect of romance writing quite yet, but some fans just aren’t 100% about “velvet wrapped steel” or the claiming, marking, owning of SJMaas writing style with sex. Armentrout did an amazing job of both the buildup and the climax (side note: I can’t help but giggle at the usage of the word climax here). I mean, cue the gif of Santana Lopez from Glee fanning herself, Blanche from The Golden Girls spraying herself down; Poppy and Cas have some HAWT moments in this book for anyone who likes things more on the smutty side! ~ Have No Shame!
  3. More Worldbuilding! Instead of the whole story taking place in one town/kingdom/etc. like the previous book, this sequel has a much wider journey for our characters, and with the reveal in the last book of the kingdom of Atlantia not being just a total myth, the author really stepped up her wordbuilding craft here! I will still say that SJMaas still holds the title of best worldbuilder, but Armentrout really impressed me with all that she included in this book.
  4. There’s A Map Now! This kind of continues off my last point in terms of worldbuilding, but one thing I didn’t like in the previous book was how the author was constantly referencing other towns/cities/kingdoms/etc. and we didn’t have a map to go back and use as reference! One thing I feel like any Fantasy genre title is required to include is a map to show readers where exactly everything is! It’s very minor, I know, and I could just make it all up in my head, but doesn’t mean I have to, so I’m going to continue to pout about it when it doesn’t happen. Stay Mad, bro!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. “Heartmates”…I’m sorry, but when I first saw this specific term show up in the book, I was rolling my eyes with a massive scoff. It’s not that I’m against the whole “mate” concept—I mean c’mon, Sarah J. Maas is one of my favorite authors—but what kind of middle-grade, Sailor Moon cheesy name is that?!?! Poppy and Cass are endgame, that’s no question, and I’m even cool with them being mate’s if that dynamic even applies to this story, but just the term “heartmates” gets a big, fat NOPE from me.
  2. Alastir Is A Total Drama Starter…I really liked Alastir at first; he’s the fatherly figure for Cas who reminded Poppy of Viktor. He looks out for the wellbeing of Cas and the whole Kingdom of Atlantia, but as I read on and saw how he interacted with Poppy and pulled her aside…Oh. My. Goodness…This man is such a little instigator!! Like, he always hints at something big to Poppy, she of course asks for him to elaborate, then he’s all “Oh, Casteel didn’t tell you? Oh well, I really shouldn’t….” but then TELLS HER WHAT IT WAS LITERALLY EVERY TIME ANYWAYS! It usually was some sort of information or leading to something really important, but it always lead to another rift between Cas and Poppy, to which I wanted to yell to Alastir: “Stop blowing holes in my ship!” very much like Captain Jack Sparrow. Towards the end, I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about him; he reminds me of Varys from Game of Thrones a little bit. He means well, but I have a feeling he’s going to double-cross Cas in some major way later because it’s “for the good of Atlantia” or some BS like that. We’ll see, but I’ve got my eyes on him. (side note: not really a spoiler but more a theory: he was totally behind the final moments of the book with Poppy being drawn away, and with that group of people!)
  3. Poppy and Cas Both Seem Convinced That The Other Doesn’t Have Any Feelings…I mean, that pretty much sums it up to be honest. I guess it could sort of fall under the “fake dating” trope except that we know it’s actually a fake marriage based off how the previous book ended. Poppy doesn’t know what’s real or just pretend when it comes to Cas, especially with his feelings regarding her. He kisses her, is always touching her in some way and calls her beautiful, but part of her is always questioning if he’s sincere or totally faking it all for the sake of putting on a charade. I know I said the romance was absolutely amazing, but I admit I did get slightly annoyed by this after a while. I swear, Kieran was quoting me directly from my thoughts at how DONE he was with the two of them and probably heard their mutual love towards each other at separate times, but both were convinced the other felt absolutely nothing in return…the whole thing was one big angsty mess for a bit there! Add in the fact that he probably sits there as they both separately grovel to him with their woes about it all, and I pretty much picture Kieran looking like the disappointed man with hands on his hips meme…

Conclusion:

Overall, this series is quickly turning into a massive highlight of 2020, which has to be the worst year for literally everyone. These books are like a North Star shining through the smog and destruction, and gives me hope to get through all this crap that is pretty much this year in general, so I guess I owe Jennifer L. Armentrout a huge thanks for these absolute gems of books! I’m officially obsessed!

I still recommend these books to anyone who’s looking for a steamy Fantasy genre romance: much like authors like Sarah J. Maas, Stephanie Garber, Leigh Bardugo, Susan Dennard, Karen Marie Moning, and Laura Thalassa just to name a few! They’re all just great at writing romance stories with the brave, young woman with the morally grey, dark and brooding prince type of male with cheeky one-liners thrown in at almost every chance!

My mind wasn’t completely blown like most of the fandom when I finished this book, but I will say the ending definitely raises a few brows in an incredibly good way! I for one wasn’t fully expecting it to get to the level that it did, even if the author hasn’t been hinting at it throughout the entirety of this book. It also certainly raises even more questions, and I for one am already looking forward to when the next book gets released in early/mid 2021.

P.S: We’ve been told that there will two more books for the series, PLUS a bonus book told from Casteel’s perspective! I was hoping that’d be the case because spoiler: the end of this book includes a bonus chapter of his perspective of the night with Poppy at the Red Pearl!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell