Fairy tale romance – now there’s a TBR prompt that can go in all kinds of different directions. When we talk about romance, we often talk about “fairytale romances.” Lynn and Caz took this one to very different places this month. Caz picked a m/m paranormal with a spin on the Rumpelstiltskin story, while Lynn went with a lush historical that picked up motifs from Little Red Riding Hood.
The Demon’s in the Details by Meghan Maslow
Narrated by Greg Boudreaux
I always have trouble finding a book to fill the fairytale prompt because fairytale retellings aren’t things I’m particularly drawn to and I don’t have many of them. In fact, I was on the point of giving up on finding one for this month’s prompt when I was scrolling through my Audible library and my eye was caught by a subtitle – “an m/m paranormal fairytale”, and I thought, “that’ll do!” The fact that the audiobook is narrated by one of my all-time favourite narrators was a big plus.
The Demon’s in the Details is a riff on Rumpelstiltskin that hits the basic beats of the original without being an exact reproduction of it, transforming the passive main character into a brave, fiercely protective individual who can look out for himself, the king – who is, let’s face it, a pretty nasty piece of work – into a kind of mob boss, and the titular character from the villain of the story into… well, not the villain ;) It’s a thoroughly entertaining story that moves at a fairly swift pace without feeling rushed, the leads are well-drawn and easy to root for and the narration by Greg Boudreaux is flawless.
Raven shifter and jewel thief Poe Dupin is planning on putting the proceeds from his latest heist towards paying salaries and running costs of his roost, but his dickhead of a stepfather Ethan – who is the roost’s alpha – tells him he needs the money to pay part of the eight hundred grand gambling debt he now owes to casino owner, basilisk shifter and all-round sleazebag Biggs Bickley. As if it’s not bad enough that Bickley is already milking the roost for protection money. The only way the roost can manage to keep its head above water most times is because of Poe’s side-gig of finding (both legally and illegally) rare gems for the customers of his shop, Spun Gold Jewelers. This isn’t the first time Ethan has selfishly endangered the roost, but Poe very much fears it might be the last. How on earth is he going to raise that kind of money?
At the suggestion of his best friend. Poe reluctantly decides to approach demon Tommy Tittoti for help. Tommy is dangerous, powerful and mysterious – nobody really knows for sure what he is and where he comes from – but Poe is caught between a rock and a hard place, and heads to Tommy’s place, a barbershop of all things – Rumpled Still: Skin, Hair, and Scalp – ready to make a bargain for the money to pay the debt and save the roost.
Tommy turns out to be not at all what Poe had expected. Instead of some hulking, disgusting brute, Tommy is a gorgeous twinky blond (Poe labels him a “murder twink” – which made me smile every time!) and Poe can’t take his eyes off him. Tommy proposes a bargain (while giving Poe the cleanest (sexiest) shave he’s ever had) – surprising Poe by asking for a price he can easily pay. Poe can’t believe he’s getting off that lightly, but also isn’t about to look a gift demon in the mouth, and the bargain is struck.
While the story is familiar and there’s not a lot new here – of course, the bad guys are very bad, and the good guys are very good – the excellent storytelling, world-building and characterisations elevate the tale beyond the ordinary and make for a super fun fantasy romp. The various conflicts and challenges Poe and Tommy face are well thought-out, and there’s a lively secondary cast of supernatural beings (Carter the cat shifter is a total scene stealer) with different gifts and abilities. Poe is an all-round decent guy trying to do the right thing in difficult circumstances, to look after his younger step-siblings and take care of everyone in the roost, even though it’s not technically his responsibility as he’s not the alpha. I liked his snarky inner voice, and he’s got attitude by the bucket-load; he doesn’t think he’s anything special, but proves over and over that he is, especially in his willingness to give away the very thing he prizes the most in order to save the roost. Tommy is an intriguing mixture of smooth, sexy and dangerous that fascinates Poe right from the start, and their chemistry is combustible. Even though Poe is the sole PoV character, the author skilfully shows us Tommy’s motivations and feelings, and how he struggles to balance his own wants and needs with the demands of his demonic nature. For a demon/assassin/vigilante he’s surprisingly endearing!
Greg Boudreaux is one of the best romance audiobook narrators around, and he delivers a superb, well-paced performance that perfectly captures all the fun, mischief and heartache of this story. All the characters are voiced in ways that reflect their personalities – such as the slight hiss on the sibilants in Bickley’s dialogue – and are clearly differentiated so that there’s never any problem working out who is speaking. The two leads are really well depicted; Poe’s snappy snark is expertly timed and his hidden vulnerabilities are beautifully conveyed, and Tommy’s slight southern drawl drips with honey and sex and sarcasm, and works really well to fool people into thinking he’s the non-threatening twink he presents himself as. As always, Mr. Boudreaux hits all the right emotional notes, and he brings the connection between Poe and Tommy vividly to life.
I had a few small niggles (I’m not a fan of romances where a third party has to tell person A how person B really feels about them), but overall The Demon’s in the Details is a fresh, fun take on a well-known story and I really enjoyed it.
Grade: Narration – A; Story – B+ Sensuality: Warm
Big Bad Wolf by Linda Winstead Jones
A fairytale retelling AND it’s a non-British historical? Sign me up. For this month’s TBR Challenge, I went old school with a 1997 historical romance set in 1890s Maine. Big Bad Wolf is a deliciously sexy take on Little Red Riding Hood that held up pretty well for me.
There’s a mansion overlooking the Maine woods and its owner, Wolf Trevelyan, is pretty much the local bogeyman. Rumor has it he killed his first wife on their wedding night, and he’s stayed safely away from Maine ever since. He reportedly lives a life of debauchery in New York, and the folks in the local small town have largely forgotten he even owns property out there.
Molly Kincaid lives a simple life with her widowed mother. Mrs. Kincaid works hard taking in laundry and doing some of the smaller jobs open to a single woman in a rural town of that day. Molly’s life isn’t fancy, but she’s content living with her mother and taking provisions out to her grandmother’s cottage every day or so. Naturally, she has a lovely hooded red cape.
Things change when Molly heads out to her grandmother’s one day and meets up with Wolf in the woods. Wolf clearly has fun toying flirtatiously with Molly. It’s apparent that he intended to be scary or at least off-putting, but sensible Molly meets him head-on. Wolf finds himself intrigued and this starts a series of flirty meetings in the woods. Molly knows the stories about Wolf, but having met him, she’s (correctly) convinced that there must be more to the story.
It’s certainly believable that the sheltered Molly would develop a crush on Wolf. And Wolf finds himself so obsessed with Molly that he can’t get her out of his mind. He proposes to make her a kept woman and Molly turns him down flat. Eventually Wolf proposes marriage, and we are off to the races.
When Wolf initially proposed to make Molly his mistress, I initially had flashbacks to Benedict Bridgerton (who is a total tool, in my estimation) in An Offer from a Gentleman. However, the author handled that plot point a bit better and managed to convince me that Wolf was a tad clueless rather than that Wolf lacked respect for Molly due to the differences in social class.
When the two get married, the relationship gets very interesting. Wolf makes it clear that he is going into this marriage considering it something of a business deal. Molly plays along, but her infatuation starts to turn to love as she spends more time with Wolf, and I liked that she was brave enough to ultimately share her feelings even knowing how Wolf had started things. She’s a bit of a Mary Sue, but I still liked the story, largely because I enjoyed seeing Wolf fall for her.
This is a late 90s romance, so in addition to a Mary Sue heroine, we also have charming urchins and some of the other plot points that cropped up a lot around that time period. In Ms. Jones’ hands, they’re less cringe than in other books I recall from my college days, but still be aware.
Big Bad Wolf isn’t perfect, but it is a fun take on the Red Riding Hood story, and it ended up being a very enjoyable romance.
Grade: B+ Sensuality: Warm