Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The corresponding YouTube video is available here.
Round of Applause is book 2 in the Strawberry Shifters series by Marilyn Barr. I do feel like I missed something not reading book 1, but I could follow it as a stand alone well enough. It’s set in modern times in a place called Strawberry Kentucky and focuses on a woman named Aurora, who is a normal human woman trying to find herself by selling her home and buying plane tickets to go travel the world. She never makes it out of Kentucky, as she’s captured by a group of evil fae called the Sluagh. Luckily for her, she’s soon rescued by a pack of shifters, including our sexy love interests James and Nate. There’s a lot to like about this book, and I’ll do my best to keep it spoiler free, only including spoilers the author provides in the book description. So let’s dive in!
Regarding the writing style, I can’t say it was my favorite. There were some obvious typos (missing open quotes, a comma after a period at the end of a sentence, a random open quotes in the middle of dialogue) and the dialogue was not the strong point of this book. It felt a little stiff, though it did have moments of quality that made me laugh or smile. But I felt more like I was getting the author’s voice out of all the characters rather than individual characters’ voices with distinct personalities. That said, I could follow everything easily enough and did enjoy the style of the descriptive passages.
The characters, as stated in the writing style, did suffer a little from semi-monolithic dialogue, in which similar words, styles, and mannerisms would be used by characters who didn’t feel like they should have those things in common. However, the characters did all have their own personalities that shone through, and I found myself quite enjoying them. Aurora’s determination was wonderful and I couldn’t help but root for her. James and Nate weren’t what I expected, in very good ways. I’m used to shifter romance being very… black and white. “You’re my mate now, and there’s nothing you can do about it” type deal. This, beautifully, isn’t that. There’s a ‘sniff test’ that shifters can do and if someone passes it, that means there’s the *possibility* of being mates. But it’s not mandatory. That was great. And with the pack dynamics, when a lot of shifter romance focuses on unrealistic alpha nonsense drawing on outdated and incorrect wolf pack studies, this felt more realistic and more familial. And the alpha isn’t a man! Which is awesome. I’ve actually never seen alphas in shifter romance as women before. Bravo.
That said, one thing I didn’t like I feel I do have to mention is regarding Aurora’s desire to visit “Europe and Asia”. I don’t mind that she wants to go traveling with the purpose of trying to find and fall in love with a man, but I did cringe a little when she referred to her travel destination as “the Far East” – a phrase I believe is about as outdated as “the Orient”. Aurora wants to go teach English in Asia, but doesn’t have a specific country in mind, has done zero research on the countries she might visit, and doesn’t have any Asian language skills or interest. She treats Asia (and Europe for that matter) as a monolith she can just prance around in. Her attitude towards travel feels a little annoyingly naive, and I couldn’t get into that, though I loved the other aspects of her personality, in particular how she dealt with medical difficulties involving her hand. Ultimately, I think it’s probably for the best that she never made it out of Kentucky.
The worldbuilding was pretty interesting. I like the style of shifter in this series, and how they’re different from a lot of shifter romance out there, part of which I covered above. I also like the choice in what animals are being shifted into. Not going to say more for spoiler reasons, but it was very cool to see a different twist on the shifter characters in this. The Sluagh as the fae villains were intriguing, though I wish I could have seen more of them in the beginning – literally, I wanted to see more of them. Almost everything in the beginning happened in the past or off screen, so to speak. They’re a very intangible threat looming over the story. I like the setting in a small town, and I felt like it made the story a bit cozy despite the larger fae threat.
The plot was easy to follow and straightforward, with a few little surprises I enjoyed. The overall plot, other than the romance, has to do with an expected, upcoming attack by the Sluagh and how the small town shifters prepare for battle. It also, amazingly, has polyamorous and queer representation with a triad relationship – which leads us to the romance!
Something I really enjoyed regarding the romance is that whenever something a little sexist came up, the characters worked through it. It makes sense for a few moments to happen, since the characters are near immortal, but they’re moving forward as the world moves forward and improving, which I liked very much. And, they do have to have a forward thinking and modern view since the romance turns from a love triangle with Aurora, James, and Nate into a love TRIAD. This was so awesome. More books need to do this. Love triangles are one of my least favorite tropes, and to see this book turn it into a queer (the men are bisexual) triad was magnificent. I do wish that there had been a little more romantic tension between James and Nate early on, but I’m honestly just so happy to see a triad instead of a triangle, and they do have great back-and-forth chemistry when they’re competing with each other for Aurora initially.
Health of relationship is, honestly, pretty great in my opinion. The moments that aren’t healthy get worked through, as real people have to do to grow and find happiness. A lot of it was really sweet, and I liked it.
I’d rate Round of Applause the following, with 5 being the max:
⭐⭐⭐ 3/5 for the writing style. I had a hard time with some of the stiff dialogue and there were typos, but it wasn’t too bad that I couldn’t enjoy all the other aspects of the book.
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4/5 for the characters. There were some relatively small aspects of Aurora I didn’t like, and the dialogue wasn’t always spot on, but the characters were still interesting.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5/5 for the plot. It was fairly straightforward and enjoyable, and the romance wasn’t the *only* plot.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5/5 for the worldbuilding. I love the pack dynamics, the different take on shifters, the use of the Sluagh as villains, and all the paranormal stuff.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5/5 for the romance. It’s a triangle turned triad – what’s not to like! More romances should do this.
🩺🩺🩺🩺🩺 5/5 for the health of relationships. There was good emphasis on consent and mostly healthy behaviors.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Overall, I’d rate this book a 4.5, which would round up to 5. If you want a triangle turned triad with shifters who break the mold, pick this book up!
🔥🔥🔥 For the heat level, which is not part of the rating, it is a 3/5 as it does have some hot sex scenes that aren’t just allusions to the act, but doesn’t have more intense detail, focusing more on the romantic aspects.
You can find Round of Applause available for purchase at these links:
More information on the author, Marilyn Barr, is available here.
Thanks for reading!
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