Bliss by Lisa Henry & Heidi Belleau

22496938
Grade: C+
Hotness Level: Inferno
Kink Level: Moderate Kink
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, m/m
Published: 8/18/14
Reviewed by Anne

When I read the blurb for Bliss I was really intrigued!  The set up is a bit complicated, so I’m going to use the official blurb to explain:

They’re always happy.

Rory James has worked hard all his life to become a citizen of the idyllic city-state of Beulah. Like every other kid born in the neighboring country of Tophet, he’s heard the stories: No crime or pollution. A house and food for everyone. It’s perfect, and Rory is finally getting a piece of it.

So is Tate Patterson. He’s from Tophet, too, but he’s not a legal immigrant; he snuck in as a thief. A city without crime seems like an easy score, until he crashes into Rory during a getaway and is arrested for assaulting a citizen. Instead of jail, Tate is enrolled in Beulah’s Rehabilitation through Restitution program. By living with and serving his victim for seven years, Tate will learn the human face of his crimes.

If it seems too good to be true, that’s because it is. Tate is fitted with a behavior-modifying chip that leaves him unable to disobey orders—any orders, no matter how dehumanizing. Worse, the chip prevents him from telling Rory, the one man in all of Beulah who might care about him, the truth: in a country without prisons, Tate is locked inside his own mind.

 

I’m so conflicted about this story.  On one hand it’s really well written, on the other it’s terribly dark and the romance is pretty weak.  It actually read more like horror to me than sci-fi.

The thing about the story is that the chip doesn’t just make Rory unable to disobey orders, it leaves him craving Rory’s happiness and desperate to get any orders he can from Rory.  However, the whole time he following orders and trying to find anyway to make Rory happy, the real part of him suppressed to the back corner of his head is screaming.  Sometimes it’s screaming in disgust, sometimes in pain, sometimes in horror.  His personal morals just don’t matter in the face of avoiding the pain the chip will cause him if he even considers something against its programming.

And that’s where things cross the line for me.  Rory is very clear to himself that he is not gay, yet he finds himself compelled (and instructed) to seduce Rory.  Even when the act is painful for him, he knows it will be worse if he stops, so he tells Tate he’s into pain in order to get him to continue.

If that whole thing wasn’t horrifying enough, things get worse when a third party is involved.  At least when Tate and Rory are together Tate isn’t looking to hurt Rory or go against his will – he just doesn’t know that Rory isn’t in control.  When this third party comes in (I’m being purposefully vague to avoid spoilers) he seeks out painful and humiliating things to have Rory do.

So, one major problem I had with the story was that it’s just so much darker than what I enjoy.  The second problem was that almost the entire time Rory and Tate know each other, Rory is chipped, and basically being tortured.  And Tate is unknowingly one of his main torturers.  That makes it really hard to believe that any kind of healthy relationship could grow between them.  And truth be told, I wouldn’t have minded reading the story of how they overcame that start, but the story is all but over when Rory’s chip comes out.  That made the HEA pretty unbelievable for me.

The thing about this story is that despite all those negatives, I just couldn’t put it down.  It was horrifying, but I had to know what happened next.  Also, what little I saw of unchipped Rory I really liked.

However, in the end, I think this would have made a much better non-romance sci-fi book.  Honestly, I’ll probably be avoiding Lisa Henry in the future.  I’ve read and loved Heidi Belleau before, so I’m going to blame Lisa Henry for the darkness that still haunts me.  If you like darker evil stuff, though, this is would be a great book for you!

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Spirit Bound by Christine Feehan

8736477

Grade: F
Hotness Level: Blaze
Kink Level: No Kink
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Magic, audiobook
Series: Sisters of the Heart #2
Published: 12/27/14
Reviewed by Anne
404 pages

So, I have to tell you, I really grew to hate this book.  In fact, I stopped listening to it when I was on section 18 of 21, because it was just making me too angry.  I didn’t set out to hate it!  I was really looking forward to it – Christine Feehan was my gateway author into vampire romance with her Dark series.  I loved her Drake Sisters series even more.  Spirit Bound is even set in the same town and world as the Drake Sisters series.  I went into this book expecting it to be pretty good, but things went downhill pretty fast.

First, let me give you the set up.  Judith is one of 6 magical sisters.  They aren’t biologically related to each other, but formed a family in their adulthood after surviving traumas in their pasts.  They live together on a farm in California.

Stefan is an secret agent for Russia.  He had a horribly traumatic childhood and has spent his entire life doing undercover work in one situation or another.  Stefan is assigned to insinuate himself into Judith’s life so that he’ll be there if she’s pursued by a master criminal who is known to be obsessed with her.  Oh, and Stefan has magical powers, too.

OK, pretty decent set up.  It gets complicated pretty quickly, but Feehan handles that well and it’s easy to understand.  The audiobook narrator was decent and I have not audiobook related complaints.  I enjoyed the magic in the story and I loved the sisterhood!  What I didn’t enjoy was the hours and hours I felt like I spent in Stefan’s head thinking about how he’d never allowed himself to love anyone, but now he was falling for Judith (before he even met her) and how he had decided that he was never going to love anyone, but his heart was opening to her without him even asking.  And his childhood was awful and he learned early never to trust anyone, but already he’s trusting her.  And he was never going to love anyone, but he’s falling in love with Judith.  Oh, and did I mention that Stefan was never going to allow himself to have loving feelings for anyone, but Judith has already taken over his heart?  Because Feehan mentions it a lot.  A. Lot.

We get some of the same head time from Judith, but it’s not quite as bad as Stefan’s inner monologue.  There are a couple bad guys in the story, but the one in town directly pursuing them (Ivanov, I think) is a sadistic, cruelty loving, bad guy who is into sadism and likes to hurt animals and people just for the joy of it, because he’s a sadistic bastard.  Yes.  He’s a very, very bad guy and the story is filled with Stefan remembering horrific anecdotes from his childhood (he grew up with Ivanov) so we can be impressed with how awfully sadistic he is.  Sheesh, that got old.

But, through all that inner monologue and driving home of points with lots of repetition, I was still really wanting to know how things would work out for Judith and Stefan.  I was curious and even rooting for them.  But the thing is, the more I got to know Stefan, the more I disliked him.  He’s a controlling asshole with no relationship skills.  He wants to know more about Judith, so he breaks into her home and looks around.  He stalks her, but we’re supposed to be ok with it because he has feelings for her?   He treasures Judith like she’s a thing to be owned.  He withholds information from her even when it seems like he should be coming clean.

And then, as if he weren’t being a big enough asshole, he starts drugging her to get her to sleep through the night so he can go out bad guy hunting without having to explain himself.  He says he does it to keep her safe while he’s gone. What????  Because leaving a strong, independent, and powerful woman totally incapacitated and protected only by a security system that he himself routinely breaks through is a good decision?  And he does it repeatedly.  Repeatedly!  And when another character calls him out on it, Stefan thinks he’s justified because he’s doing it all to keep her safe.

When Judith miraculously is roused from her drugged state and saves his life and then realizes what he’s done and is very angry with him  – only then does he start to reconsider his decision to drug her.  He admits to her that he “probably shouldn’t have done that.”  Oh. Really?  Thankfully, Judith is very angry with him.  Unfortunately, he continues to boss her around, which is how he ‘takes care of her’ and even more unfortunately, she lets him!  And when she’s still kind of upset he decides he needs to have sex with her.  He needs it.  And they start kissing passionately and he realizes he doesn’t know if she’s resisting or capitulating – and he doesn’t care!  He needs this closeness with her.

That was it for me.  I was driving while I listened and I just reached over and shut off the player.  I couldn’t listen to another word.  All I really wanted was for Judith to dump him and find someone better.

I know some of Feehan’s other books have old school “heroes” like this, and I’ve enjoyed them in the past.  I don’t know if I’m growing up and feeling more strongly about consent?  Or maybe that kind of behavior is somehow more acceptable to me when it comes from a vampire with super-human needs?  I don’t know, but this book left me steaming mad and very disappointed, I love Judith and her sisters and their farm and their powers, but I can’t listen to another word..  Please, someone, recommend a sisterhood series that will cleanse my palate of this mess!