Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review of Anne Stuart's Shameless

At first when I received Anne Stuart’s Shameless for review from the publisher, I thought her name sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t remember reading any of her work. Surprise! Not only had I read another of her books, I actually reviewed it last month. Oops. She was one of the three writers of Dogs and Goddesses, which was super cute and lots of fun, so I was really excited to read this historical romance billed as dark and suspenseful. The tone in Shameless was definitely a lot darker than that of Dogs and Goddesses, and I should state up front that there is some violence against women and children, although thankfully the author does not describe it in detail. Ms. Stuart takes the familiar trope of rake meets do-gooder and falls in lust and adds some sinister elements to the mystery which the two must solve. There was a lot to like about this book, but this particular installment of this series fell a bit flat for me, for reasons I’ll go into below. First, here’s a bit about the plot.
At the start of the novel, Viscount Benedick Rohan has just returned to London after a year of mandatory mourning after the death of his second wife. Lest you, like Oscar Wilde, find it careless of him to have lost two wives, allow me to inform you that both died in childbirth. Since he needs an heir, he has come to London to search for a new wife, a proper dull wife who will look the other way as he slakes his lust upon loose women. The heroine, Lady Melisande “Charity” Carstairs is a thirty-year-old widow who is using her late husband’s fortune to house and reform former prostitutes, hence her nickname “Charity”. She is both innocent and strait-laced, not at all the sort to interest the rakish Viscount Rohan. But when one of her prostitutes is brutally attacked by an aristocratic secret society and another disappears, Melisande seeks out the Viscount to ask for his assistance in finding the woman. It turns out that the men in Viscount Rohan’s family have a long-standing association with the society – they founded it. While there was always plenty of debauchery to be found at the society’s meetings in the past, it seems that a new master has appeared, and the sexual encounters are no longer consensual. As the two work together to find the missing women, they cannot deny their mutual attraction, and Melisande has to decide if she’s willing to risk everything for an affair with the dangerous Benedick.
The trope of the rake who falls for the good but fascinating lady is familiar and a favorite of mine. Georgette Heyer’s Venetia is one of my favorite romance novels of all time, and the sheer number of romances featuring a sexually experienced man reformed by the love of a good woman proves the popularity of the reformed rake. Ms. Stuart does an outstanding job of portraying the attraction between the two seemingly disparate lovers, and you can easily understand the temptation for Melisande, given her inexperience. Also, the villain of the novel is deliciously evil and the various twists of the plot behind the missing women made for tense reading.
 While the novel is definitely not humorous overall, there are some moments that made me laugh. In a rather funny scene at the beginning of the book, Benedick sends for a prostitute who is known for her abilities with her mouth (ahem), not realizing that Violet has been taken in by Lady Melisande and is supposed to be reformed. Violet enjoys her former profession and makes her way to Viscount Rohan’s house, only to have Melisande burst in on the two of them just before anything really titillating happens. The Viscount assumes that the other woman is an abbess and makes lots of lewd comments, which shock, yes, SHOCK our innocent and well-meaning heroine. Later the poor woman is shocked again as the fallen women who live in Melisande’s house offer her lots of advice, most of which sails completely over her head. She has little of their experience, not having even seen a naked man despite being married and taking a lover. The scenes with the former prostitutes are lots of fun and provide some much needed comic relief from the tension throughout the novel.
There were only two things that prevent me from wholeheartedly suggesting this book. The first is the character of the hero, Benedick. He’s rather yummy in a sensual way, but I’m still not certain why he falls in love with Melisande. He doesn’t realize he’s done so until late in the book when someone informs him of the fact, but up until that point he really didn’t seem to be falling in love but rather in lust with Melisande. Other than his prowess in bed (which the prostitutes are more than happy to vouch for), I’m not sure why Melisande would want to be with him. He’s smug, conceited, and a bit of a jerk. He doesn’t show any signs of changing his character, other than his growing reluctance to seek out other women once he meets Melisande. Typically when the trope of the reformed rake is used, we gradually learn of his redeeming qualities (as happens with Sebastian in Lisa Kleypas’ Devil in Winter), but other than Benedick’s agreement to help Melisande find the missing woman, that is not the case here. Throughout the novel we’re reminded that he loved his first wife, Annis, who died in childbirth, but his actions don’t demonstrate that these events have changed him in any way. I was much more interested in Benedick’s younger brother, Brandon, who was seriously injured in the war in the Afghan and plays a role in the plot with the secret society. I hope that his story will be the next novel in the series, because there were several intriguing hints about a possible relationship with Mrs. Emma Cadbury, the former madam living in Melisande’s house.
The second complaint I have about the novel is fairly serious. At one point a young girl is stolen from Melisande’s house and everyone believes that she is going to be killed. Melisande’s behavior upon learning about the abduction borders on TSTL (too stupid to live). She decides to rescue the girl on her own and takes off to look for her. While her decision not to ask Benedick for help makes sense because he had been particularly cruel to her just prior to the incident, I have to wonder what she thought she could accomplish. Why she thought she’d be able to find the girl and free her on her own is beyond my comprehension. She just jumps in a carriage and goes, not considering that the men would be able to overpower her and had been assaulting women for months.  Not surprisingly, the members of the society catch her and subject her to a sexual assault, although it seems clear they stopped short of rape. But what really blew my mind was that as soon as Benedick finds her and she tells him about the assault, she begs him to make love to her, to erase the memory of the others’ hands on her body.  I don’t find it at all believable that a woman who’d been sexually assaulted would react in such a way immediately after the assault and with the men who had assaulted her nearby. Quite frankly, I found this scene offensive.
The scene after the assault pretty much spoiled the book for me. Until then, I had enjoyed the growing attraction between the hero and heroine, and the tension behind their attempts to prevent further abuse of women kept me turning the pages. Overall, Ms. Stuart’s writing is excellent – she’s descriptive in a way that makes the scenes come alive and the dialogue between the characters is witty and entertaining. For these reasons, I’m willing to give her next book (which I’m very much hoping is about Brandon Rohan) a try, despite my overwhelmingly negative reaction to the one scene late in the novel.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Review of Merrie DeStefano's Feast

I received this book for review from the publisher through NetGalley, and I have to admit that I’ve been putting off writing the review, because I have mixed feelings about the novel. In fact, I forced myself to read the book a second time, because I wasn’t sure I could do a fair review based solely on my first reading. I’m glad I read it a second time, because it definitely improved with a second reading. This book totally creeped me out (in a good way), and I think that’s one of the reasons it’s been so hard to write this review.
Feast is a fantasy novel with some romance elements, and it takes place in the small town of Ticonderoga Falls. The town clearly has secrets, and there is a sense of foreboding and menace as Halloween approaches. Madeline “Maddie” MacFadden is a graphic novelist known as Mad Mac, and after a nasty divorce, she’s returned to Ticonderoga Falls with her son Tucker to spend a few nights in the cabin she visited with her parents when she was a child. Since her divorce, she’s had a bad case of writer’s block, and she hopes that the change of scenery will inspire her to start writing again. Artists are frequently drawn to the town, but the reasons for the creative draw are less than innocent. The town’s protected (or is it cursed?) by a being named Ash, a Darkling. The Darklings feed off human dreams, and Halloween is the time of the Darklings’ harvest. To protect the humans, the Darklings’ laws prohibit them from gorging themselves on the humans’ dreams, which kills them and leaves their bodies as dried-up husks. With Halloween drawing near, members of Ash’s Darkling family arrive to feast during the Harvest, but after a century of protecting Ticonderoga Falls, Ash’s control of the town is beginning to be called into question by some very dangerous adversaries.
Ms. DeStefano does an amazing job of creating an ominous and sinister feel to the novel. In fact, I completely blame the novel’s creepiness for my difficulties reading it the first time, since I had to keep putting the book down because of the threatening atmosphere. I love how she juxtaposed Maddie’s innocent hikes through the sunlit forest with the shadows that hide the Darklings stalking her, because what should have been a relaxing vacation suddenly takes on menacing overtones. It’s clear from the start that Maddie is special, and her creative abilities attract the creatures that feed on dreams and fascinating Ash. There’s also the constant question of whether or not Ash is the town’s savior or demon. Has his 100 year stay in Ticonderoga Falls been a curse or has it provided protection for the town’s inhabitants? As the novel progresses, we learn more about the Darklings and their powers, providing much of the uncertainty over whether or not Ash is a hero. Also, Ash’s cousins Thane and River arrive for the Harvest, and it becomes clear that they do not intend to abide by the rules, pursuing and taunting their victims in the woods.  As the Harvest draws near, the tension between the Darklings and Maddie’s confusion about what is happening in the woods creates suspense that will keep you on the edge of your seat, especially since the town’s children will be out trick-or-treating during the Darklings’ feast.
The fictional world created by Merrie DeStefano is a fascinating one, and she does a stellar job of drawing out the tension by gradually revealing information about Ash’s past and the Darklings’ nature through the eyes of different characters. The novel is narrated mainly from Maddie, Ash, and Thane’s points of view, with glimpses from other secondary characters. Unfortunately, this is not always successful. At times, I felt the information gained from the secondary characters was unnecessary. Eli Driscoll, the grandson of the man whose actions drew Ash’s curse, is an important character, but his point of view seems unnecessary, as do those of Joe Wimbledon (the Legend Keeper) and Sheriff Kyle. All three characters play roles in how the action develops, but instead of presenting their points of view, the author could have limited them to interaction with the main characters. The multiplicity of voices was a distraction, and I believe the space devoted to these secondary characters could have been used to develop Ash and Maddie’s characters and incipient romance. The one secondary character whose point of view I did enjoy was that of Elspeth, Ash’s half Darkling/half human teenage daughter. Her voice was my favorite among all the characters, because I felt it was strong and gave a great sense of Elspeth’s vulnerability, more so even than Maddie. At times Ash and Maddie seem a little two dimensional, and their romance seems a bit contrived. While the finale proves that Maddie is a strong creative force, able to interact with the Darklings in ways the other humans cannot, for most of the novel Ash’s attraction to Maddie seemed to be directly related to her creative energy, rather than, say, her personality or character. 
Ms. DeStefano is a gifted writer, able to create superbly creepy worlds rivaling that of any horror writer. If you are a fan of fantasy fiction, this would be a great addition to your library. However, if you are more interested in romance or character driven works, this might not be for you. Either way, I’m interested in seeing future novels from Ms. DeStefano. I’ll just make sure I read them with ALL the lights on.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review of Lauren Dane’s Goddess with a Blade

I’m a big fan of author Lauren Dane’s writing. She’s a versatile author, having published in several different genres of romance, including contemporary, paranormal, urban fantasy, sci-fi/fantasy, and erotic romance. I haven’t read many of her erotic romances, but I love her contemporary Chase Brothers series and her paranormal de la Vega Cats and Cascadia Wolves series. She writes hot alpha heroes and steamy sex scenes, which is definitely a win-win for romance readers. So I was really excited when her urban fantasy Goddess with a Blade was released earlier this month and I received a copy for review from NetGalley. I couldn’t wait to read it! Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations.
The heroine of the novel, Rowan Summerwaite, should be a great urban fantasy lead. She’s intense, sexy, and the physical vessel to the Celtic Goddess Brigid. At the beginning of the novel, she’s just returned to Las Vegas after months away, defending her killing of the former vampire scion of the city. She is part of the Hunters Corporation, which polices the vampires and defends the unknowing humans against undead predators. Upon Rowan’s return to Las Vegas, she’s summoned to meet the new vampire scion in town, Clive Stewart. He is of course super hunky and really uptight, contrasting nicely with our brash heroine, and their sexual chemistry is off the chart. As a series of vicious murders are uncovered in the city, Rowan has to work with Clive to discover the vampire killing female junkies before the human authorities learn that vampires are in their midst.
Here are my problems with the novel. My first criticism is that the writing is uneven and at times awkward. At least twice when I was reading conversations between characters I had to stop, go back, and count lines to figure out who said what. The beginning was rough, and it made it really difficult to get into the novel. This is a shame, because as the novel progressed, the writing noticeably improved and I was drawn into the action.
I also didn’t like Roman very much until about halfway through the novel. Clive is portrayed as refined and Rowan is brash and bold, setting the two of them up for an intense attraction between opposites. Unfortunately, in her early conversations with Clive, Rowan goes out of her way to be vulgar and crude, in what is clearly an attempt to show her as strong and assertive but just makes her seem really immature. She claims to despise vampires, yet almost immediately has sex with Clive. The scenes where she interacts with the Goddess Brigid and her acolytes portray Rowan as soft and caring, a stark contrast to her abrupt and overly aggressive interactions with Clive. I think the intent was to show that the relationship between the two changes them both, softening Rowan’s harsh edges and relaxing Clive, but Rowan’s attitude in the beginning goes just a little too far. As the novel progresses, she becomes less vulgar and crude but remains assertive and strong. I think she could have been this way from the beginning without sacrificing any strength of character.
Despite the problems with the beginning of the novel, the plot is action-packed, and the mystery is intriguing. Once the writing began to flow better and Rowan became less worried about maintaining a tough image with the vamps and more concerned about finding the vamp serial killer, the novel improved considerably. I liked the world Ms. Dane created in this novel, and the way she introduced us to Rowan’s history was excellent. We learn about her training for her role as the vessel for the goddess and her vampire father figure, and the scenes with him are well done and show emotional complexity. While I haven’t seen any information on Ms. Dane’s webpage indicating that this is the beginning of a new series, it easily could be, since there were several elements of the story that would provide ample material to develop. Given the improvements of the second half, I would be interested in reading a second novel in this series, because I very much liked the fictional world and how the mystery was tied up in the end. Overall, the novel had some serious problems at the start that were resolved as it progressed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Review of Lori Foster’s When You Dare

Yesterday I poked fun at book covers featuring dark-haired heroines in tight leather pants, and after a trip to the library this afternoon, I now have plenty of other types of book covers to laugh at or drool over. I was thrilled to find Lori Foster’s newest, When You Dare (Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor #1), at the library, and it has an appropriately drool-worthy cover. I’ve noticed that romantic suspense covers seem to feature men in jeans or cargo pants with no shirt on, and this cover features a gentleman who is in excellent shape. And I would never complain about the eye candy, but I have to think that any guy in the military or police/fire department has to laugh like crazy when he sees one of the alpha males featured on these covers. This Lori Foster cover is pretty darn sexy, but the guy’s wearing his gun holster and not wearing a shirt. Because Lord knows he needs to be both sexy AND have access to his gun at the same time, right? He’s also wearing sunglasses and the background is completely dark, which makes me want to start singing bad eighties tunes (“I wear my sunglasses at night…”). I actually prefer this cover to some others I’ve seen where the cover model doesn’t have a head, but truly, I can’t complain because, hello, hot guy on the cover! Yummy!
Dare MacIntosh, the hero of When You Dare, is one sexy mercenary, and the novel begins with his rescuing two women from human traffickers in Mexico. One of the women is his friend’s younger sister, but the other woman is a stranger. She’s drugged, and since she’s clearly been abused and is an American, Dare rescues her. When she wakes up, Molly Alexander tells Dare that she was abducted over nine days ago, and she’s not really sure why this happened to her. Molly is a novelist who writes romantic suspense, and her most recent book is about to become a motion picture, but other than a few disgruntled fans and an ex-fiancé, she’s not sure who could have arranged her abduction. Since Dare is clearly very good at what he does, she hires him to help her find the person behind her kidnapping. Despite the trauma Molly’s undergone, the two have quite the sexual chemistry, and Dare finds himself falling for our plucky heroine.
I don’t usually read romantic suspense, but I really like Lori Foster so I thought I’d give this series a go. Often in romantic suspense the relationship between the hero and heroine feels rushed, but that was not the case here. Molly and Dare are able to take things slowly and get to know one another, with the sexual relationship developing later in the book. I liked the interactions between the two of them, and it was fun seeing how Molly would work on her writing. I like how Ms. Foster gave us glimpses of the life of the writer, and it made Molly an interesting heroine. Dare and Molly definitely have sexual chemistry, but given the circumstances of their meeting, I found it completely believable that Dare would take his time with her. I also liked how Dare kept calling Molly on her pretense that everything was fine. He reassured her that she would have future breakdowns and needed to have them.
One criticism I have of the novel is that the secondary characters weren’t particularly interesting. In fact, I was more interested in Dare’s two dogs than the people in the story, but that probably won’t surprise anyone who knows me since I love dogs. There are a few brief scenes with Molly’s father, and one extended scene with Molly’s sister, Natalie, but these take place later in the book. In fact, we meet all the “suspects” in the second half of the book, which just seems a little too late. Dare finds it odd from the beginning that no one seems to be worried or looking for Molly, even though she’s been missing for nine days. Molly convinces Dare not to contact Natalie really early on, but her reasons for doing so were fairly weak. She doesn’t want to tell Natalie she’s okay, because she thinks Natalie will start calling around trying to discover who’s behind the kidnapping and thus place herself in danger. I found that to be somewhat specious, since Natalie’s a teacher, and therefore college educated. Surely if Molly explained the situation, Natalie wouldn’t do anything to endanger her sister.
Perhaps because we don’t get to meet the “suspects” until later in the novel, I felt the suspense suffered a bit from all the time spent developing the relationship between Dare and Molly. I can’t believe I’m complaining about that, because I definitely prefer when the characters gradually build a connection rather than instantly jump into bed together, but the anxiety definitely levels off when Dare takes Molly to his house/compound in Kentucky. At the beginning of the novel, Molly has just started to recover physically from her experiences, and immediately there’s a second attempt to kidnap her, which Dare easily foils. But after that, the intensity lessens and the focus of the novel is almost entirely on their interaction. When we finally meet the secondary characters, we slowly move towards a resolution of the mystery, but I have to admit that I had a pretty good idea of who was behind the kidnapping fairly early on. There’s definitely some fast-paced action at the very end, but again, there just wasn’t much tension there.
In short, this romantic suspense was long on the romance and short on the suspense. I liked the focus on the relationship, and it really didn’t bother me that the suspense was lacking, but if you are looking for a real page-turner, this might not be for you. Ms. Foster is releasing the three books of the series over the months of June, July, and August, so the second installment will be out shortly. As the cover features yet another bare-chested male, I’ll certainly be checking it out!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Comments on Leather Pants and Review of Janni Nell’s South of Salem

Lately I’ve been pondering trends in book covers, particularly Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance. Apparently all heroines for UF/PNR have long, dark hair that whips around in the breeze, while they stand around in super-duper tight leather pants, a bustier, and several strategically placed tattoos. I have to wonder how these women are able to fight in leather pants. Did none of them see that episode of Friends where Ross wears the tight leather pants, sweats in them, and then can’t get them back on because they’ve shrunk? That’s gotta create some embarrassing situations (and possible chafing) if you’re about to kick some werewolf/vampire/demon’s butt, and you’re waaaaay sweaty and your super cool-looking leather pants tighten up and your butt-kicking ability is seriously impaired. Also, they all wear stilettos. Really? I must have missed the class in school about how to walk in stilettos. I’m pretty sure they covered that topic while I was in band. So I can never be any sort of UF/PNR heroine, since I don’t have long dark hair, and if I did, I would NOT want it whipping around my face and sticking in my lip gloss, which is just gross. We’ve established that I missed the walking in stilettos class, and if you think I own leather pants, much less a bustier, you’re crazy. And how does one fight in a bustier? Wouldn’t it be safer to wear a bullet-proof vest and a sports bra that smooshes everything down so it doesn’t get in the way of your sword?  Clearly I’m not the target audience for these book covers.
So I was pleased when I saw that the cover of Janni Nell’s South of Salem (Allegra Fairweather Mystery #2) features a lovely red-head’s face. Granted, she’s wearing way more eyeliner than I would, but she can get away with it because she’s not buying groceries at Walmart in rural Ohio. Allegra is a paranormal investigator, and she’s returned to Salem to visit her mother and sister, only to discover her perfectly coiffed society mother desperate because Allegra’s stepfather is possessed. Since no one in Allegra’s family wants to admit that the paranormal exists, Allegra’s usually not the most popular member of the family, but when a cousin dies from sleepwalking and all signs point to possession, Allegra steps in to help.
I love gritty, dark PNR. This is not gritty. In fact, South of Salem is distinctly lighthearted (at one point Allegra sings Barry Manilow), but that was a nice change of pace for this reader. Allegra’s sister Lily and her mother are described as perfect society wives who find themselves frantically trying to save their husbands, Steven Richard Hampton the 32nd and Steven Richard Hampton the 33rd. Fortunately, Allegra has the help of Casper, her guardian angel, and her best friend Wanda, a witch, to help her find whoever is targeting the males of the Hampton family. Allegra isn’t like a lot of PNR heroines in appearance or disposition, but she does care about her family, and her sense of humor helps her deal with them.
I enjoyed the book, mostly because it was so humorous. The Hampton family was delightfully snooty, and their behavior once possessed was the complete opposite of how they would normally behave. The only criticism I have of the book is that Allegra’s rivalry with her sister seemed overdone. Both are adults, yet sometimes when Allegra would think about her sister, she went way past snarky and into indifferent and cruel. At one point Allegra’s actually surprised that she’s worried about her pregnant sister’s safety when Lily’s kidnapped by the villain, which seems a bit extreme to me. The book is somewhat light on the romance, since Allegra has a thing for her guardian angel, Casper, and acting on that attraction would mean that he couldn’t be her guardian angel anymore. However, I look forward to seeing how Ms. Nell resolves this issue in future additions to the series, because the light flirting between the two was fun to read. Allegra wasn’t the take-charge, kick butt type of heroine you often see in PNR, and that made her all the more appealing to me. If you’re looking for a fun, short PNR that’s on the lighter side, this would be a great choice. And frankly, the lack of a leather-clad, stiletto-wearing heroine on the cover was just icing on the cake.

I was provided an ARC of this book for review through NetGalley.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review of My Dangerous Pleasure by Carolyn Jewel

I just got back from an unsuccessful trip to Barnes and Noble , which was quite the bummer. I was looking for a new release and a book published late last year, but for some reason the new release was unavailable. Even more shocking, they didn’t have several new releases that made the NYT bestseller list. I was NOT happy. Plus, I had to stand in line behind a group of kids playing with the Angry Birds stuffed toys at the checkout. (“Ooooh… Angry Birds! They’re red! And stuffed!” “Mom said not to touch, Mom said not to touch, MOM SAID DON’T TOUCH!!!!”) So a fun trip to B & N was had by all, especially the poor Mom with the kids at the front of the line. I have to confess, I never thought a trip to B & N would be such effective birth control, but there you have it.
Fortunately for my mood, when I got home I got to read an advanced reader copy of My Dangerous Pleasure by Carolyn Jewel that the publisher sent for review, so I am much happier!  This is the fourth book in Ms. Jewel’s Witches series, and it’s a fascinating world. I’d never read any of her books before, but I’ll certainly be checking them out in the future. The novel begins at Paisley Nichols’ bakery, where she meets and flirts with a sexy stranger, Rasmus Kessler. When she returns home that evening, she becomes violently ill. Her symptoms set off her landlord’s magic security system, alerting him that someone is using dark magic on the premises. He finds Paisley in her apartment and treats her. Unfortunately, for the following six weeks, Rasmus Kessler stalks Paisley, and when his actions become too threatening, her landlord has to step in and protect her. Paisley’s landlord, Iskander Philippikos, is a demon assassin sworn to the local warlord, but he’s drawn to the magic-resistant Paisley, and offers her protection from Rasmus, the mage.
The world building in My Dangerous Pleasure is complex, but I had little problems understanding what was happening in the novel despite not having read any of the earlier books in the series. There’s a glossary at the beginning of the novel, which I glanced at, but I think you can figure the terms out fairly easily on your own. Humans are for the most part unaware of the world of magic surrounding them, and both the mages and the demons want to maintain the humans’ ignorance. What was intriguing about this novel is that even though mages are presented as mostly evil, with the demons protecting the humans, the lines between good and evil are sometimes blurry. Both “good” and “bad” characters had to make decisions that could affect others, without any easy solutions. I particularly liked the character of Rasmus Kessler, because he started out as evil but as the novel progressed he became less of your typical villain and more of a more sympathetic character.
Given the title, I expected a lot more sex between Paisley and Iskander, but I was pleasantly surprised by how late in the novel the two actually got together. The sexual tension was played out for most of the novel, which I thought was really well done. Both Paisley and Iskander had difficult relationships in the past, with Iskander having been deeply betrayed, but they didn’t allow their pasts to stand in the way of a new relationship. I enjoyed seeing the two get to know one another gradually, learning to trust and develop feelings for one another before getting down and dirty.
I only have two criticisms of the novel. The first involves the scene early in the novel where Paisley is sick from Rasmus’ attempts to possess her and Iskander senses dark magic on his property. Iskander goes to investigate the source of the dark magic, and realizes that it’s coming from his tenant’s apartment. There are several pages of inner monologue, where he tries to decide whether or not he will be attacked by whomever is in the apartment or if Paisley is the one under attack. At this moment, which should be a tense one for the reader, Iskander starts to ponder his former partner’s betrayal and all it involves. I kept thinking, “Dude, stop dithering and do something!” Basically it felt like an awkward way for us to learn about his past that broke up the tension of the moment and made my mind start to wander, never a good thing. The second criticism is that the sixth chapter of the novel could have been left out completely. It involves several minor characters dealing with events that happened in previous novels and didn’t really add anything to the storyline. We meet them again later, but what’s revealed in the sixth chapter is not alluded to again, and any necessary introductions for the reader’s sake could have occurred later, since Paisley has to be introduced to the same characters in a scene late in the novel. It was a bit disconcerting, because it happened so early in the novel I kept expecting the characters to reappear and play more pivotal roles.
Either way, I really enjoyed Paisley and Iskander’s growing attraction, and the story really took off after chapter 6. I felt the pace of the action from then on was just right, and we learned more about the world Ms. Jewel has created as Paisley did, which was particularly effective. It was a fun read, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Ms. Jewel’s work after I catch up on her previous novels.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Review of Shannon Stacey’s Yours to Keep

There are a couple of authors I always turn to when I need a good laugh, namely Jennifer Crusie and Shelly Laurenston, and I’ve just added another to the list: Shannon Stacey! I received a copy of her contemporary romance, Yours to Keep, from Carina Press for reviewing, and it was a hoot. Actually, it was becoming detrimental to my husband’s sleep, so I had to hide in another room to finish it so the laughter wouldn’t wake him up. The dog thought I was in some sort of distress and wandered in to see what all the noise was about, which is amusing since we’ve had pizza delivery guys receive less attention from her. I should post a sign for intruders: “Burglars must read funny books while breaking and entering.” As soon as I reassured the pooch and finished the book, I went online and learned that Yours to Keep is the third book in the Kowalski Family series. I can’t wait to go out and buy the first two books in this series, because this book was so much fun.
In Yours to Keep, Emma Shaw finds herself in a bind, because she’s told so many white lies to her grandmother about an imaginary boyfriend, she now has an imaginary fiancé and must produce said fiancé for Grandma’s visit from Florida. To make matters worse, she gave the imaginary boyfriend the name of a real person from her town – Sean Kowalski. That hasn’t been a problem in the past, because Sean’s been in the army fighting in Afghanistan, but Sean’s just returned home to New Hampshire to see his family only days before Grandma’s coming to see Emma. Sean no sooner gets settled in an apartment above his cousin’s bar than Emma knocks on his door and asks him to pose as her fake fiancé. Not surprisingly, he thinks she’s nuts. Fortunately for us, he decides to help her out, since he hasn’t decided what to do with his life now that he’s out of the army. Working part-time for Emma’s landscaping company will give him some time to ease back into civilian life.  
There are so many things to like about this novel! The relationships between the protagonists and the secondary characters really sold me on it, especially the interaction between the guys. Sean’s cousin Kevin starts the book with, “Still as ugly as ever, I see,” when Sean comes into his bar. The dialogue between the male characters just rings true, not to mention that it’s hilarious how they rib each other. At one point Sean begs Emma not to mention a certain phrase concerning his (ahem) privates, because he knows the guys will never, ever let him live that one down. Sean’s family enters whole-heartedly into the charade, even going so far as to bribe the kids to play along, which creates too many awkward situations for Emma’s peace of mind but lots of fun for us readers!
I also really love the way Sean and Emma’s relationship develops during the month-long visit. I’ve always preferred romances where the couple comes to care for each other over time, rather than falling in lust at first sight. These two begin as complete strangers, but Emma’s determined to make the charade work. She’s a compulsive organizer and presents him with a spiral-bound notebook chock-full of important information he needs to know about her. Sean thinks he can wing it – what type of man actually reads directions? - but soon realizes his error when he’s forced to eat broccoli at dinner with Emma’s Grandma. He’d forgotten to tell Emma that he detests broccoli and has to find a way to choke it down. His solution is to leave her post-it notes with comments on the bathroom mirror. His comments are pretty darn funny but also really sweet, and we fall a little bit in love with him just as Emma does. And the sexual tension between the two heats up so quickly that Sean’s male relatives start a betting pool to see how long they can go before having sex, since the two are trying to convince Grandma they’ve been living together for a year and a half.  
Emma’s relationship with her Grandmother, Cat, is also touching. Cat and her husband raised Emma when her parents died in a car accident when she was a baby. Now that Emma’s grandfather has passed away, Cat has moved to Florida to be close to friends, a move Emma encouraged because of how much more active Cat has become. I find the little white lies that Emma’s been feeding Cat to be completely convincing. Cat is worried about Emma living alone in a big house, and Emma’s “having a boyfriend” around to help has reassured her that Emma’s okay on her own. Emma realizes that Cat is happy in Florida and doesn’t want her to give up her life with her friends just so Emma won’t be alone. I did find the fake engagement part to be a stretch, because surely Emma had to realize that once she told Cat she was engaged Cat would want to meet him, but I can see how the little lies just kept building until the situation took on a life of its own.
The only complaint I have about the book is that Emma is completely stressed out nearly the entire novel. She’s worried about Cat learning the truth and frets about wanting to buy the house from her. Several times she starts compulsively cleaning, at one point going so far as to push the fridge out from the wall and clean the coils. Who does that?!?! It was definitely a sign of how much Sean had come to care for her when he catches her vacuuming the fridge coils and convinces her to go to lunch with him instead. Between her anxiety about the charade and the sexual tension she and Sean give off, she’s a bundle of nerves most of the book. However, I think this just made the ending all the more effective, as it was a release of tension for the reader as well.
This was a fun contemporary romance, and I was sad it ended so quickly. I’m definitely looking forward to catching up on the other Kowalski males and how they fell for their wives in books 1 and 2. I highly recommend this book - just make sure you don’t read it while drinking any sort of beverage, as it’s sure to cause problems!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Short Summer Paranormal/Urban Fantasy Reads

After yesterday’s rant about the weather in the Midwest, today is absolutely lovely, with temperatures in the 70s and lots of sunshine. If the weather were like this more often, I’d be thrilled. Great summer weather leads to thoughts of summer vacations, and there are lots of new releases out right now to take with you. I think publishers plan book releases around the end of school so we readers can take our paperbacks or e-readers with us to enjoy by the pool, but if you’re busy seeing the sights on your vacation, you probably don’t have time to read an entire novel. A great way to enjoy good writing without having to invest a lot of time is to read an anthology.
I like anthologies, because it gives me a chance to read new authors without a huge time investment. I usually only purchase anthologies with novellas by authors I like, but invariably those books include someone I’ve never heard of. I’ve discovered some really great new authors that way. Unfortunately, one downside to anthologies is that there are almost always two great novellas and two not-so-great ones. A great exception is the new release, Hexed. I was excited to read it, since it features two of my favorite authors, Ilona Andrews and Allyson James. I thought I’d do a quick review of Hexed, then tell you a little bit about some of my all-time favorite Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy anthologies.
“Magic Dreams” by Ilona Andrews was by far the best entry in the anthology. The novella is part of Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, and features the romance between Cat Shifter Alpha Jim and blind-as-a-bat white tiger shifter Dali. This would actually be a great introduction to the series, as there’s a short description of how the magical shift caused drastic changes in Atlanta. The romance between the kick butt mercenary Jim and the insecure but loveable Dali is a hoot. Definitely an A in my book.
“Ice Shards” by Yasmine Galenorn is the second entry in the collection and is part of her Otherworld series. I haven’t read any of the novels in this series, but I was able to follow along fairly easily. Unfortunately I just didn’t find the narrator Lady Iris, a sprite, all that intriguing. The story revolves around her returning to her world with friends to discover if she truly is guilty of a crime she was accused of centuries ago. While not a bad story, it didn’t really interest me. C-
“Double Hexed” by Allyson James is the third novella in the book and I really liked it. It takes place in the Stormwalker universe and features stormwalker Janet Begay and her dragon lover, Mick. The plumbing in Janet’s hotel starts spewing blood, and she and several other characters are trapped in the hotel because of a hex. I’ve read the first two novels in James’ Stormwalker series, and this was a fun addition. I think you would still enjoy the story even if you haven’t read any of the novels. B+
“Blood Debt” by Jeanne C. Stein was the last novella in the collection and enjoyable, if not inspired. I had never read anything by this author, but I like the protagonist, a bounty hunter recently turned vampire. The narrator has to face a trial over killing a witch, which occurred in an earlier book, but it’s easy enough to follow what happens in the novella. Oddly enough, I was a couple pages into the story before I could figure out if the protagonist was male or female. B
Must Love Hellhounds This anthology is my all-time favorite. It features 3 outstanding novellas by authors I love, and you just can’t go wrong with this one. The first entry, “The Britlingens Go to Hell,” is a bizarre story by Charlaine Harris that I recommend you skip. It’s not worth reading. The following three, however, are gold. The second novella, “Angels’ Judgment,” is by Nalini Singh and is part of her Guild Hunters series. We learn how the Guild Director, Sara, meets her hottie husband, Deacon. The third story is “Magic Mourns,” by Ilona Andrews, and was just released separately as an e-novella. It’s part of Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, and was my first introduction to this author. The fourth entry is “Blind Spot,” by Meljean Brook, and is part of her Guardian series. I’ve only read one of the Guardian novels, and was underwhelmed, but this novella is short and sweet. Sir Pup (the hellhound) is a hoot.
Inked is another favorite anthology with three great novellas by favorite authors. The first novella, “Skin Deep,” is by Karen Chance. Chance writes the Cassandra Palmer series, which I’m not a huge fan of, but this is a lot of fun. It takes place in the Palmer universe and features half-werewolf and mage Lia and her Harley riding hunk Cyrus. The second entry is Marjorie M. Liu’s “Armor of Roses,” which is the darkest novella in the book. It’s part of her Hunter Kiss series, and I’m not sure you can just jump right in without having read previous installments. However, I’m a huge fan of Ms. Liu’s writing and this is an outstanding addition to her series. “Etched in Silver” by Yasmine Galenorn is the third novella and my least favorite. Just like her entry in Hexed, this takes place in the world of her Otherworld series. I felt a bit lost when reading it, so I usually skip it. The final entry is Eileen Wilks’ “Human Nature” and it’s fabulous. If you haven’t read any of Wilks’ World of the Lupi books, you should, because the characters are complex and the books are action-packed. This novella is no exception.
Unlike the previously mentioned anthologies, in Burning Up there are really only two strong novellas, but I find myself re-reading those two frequently. The first novella is “Whisper of Sin” by Nalini Singh, and it’s part of her Psy-Changeling series. We learn how human Ria meets leopard shifter Emmitt. Great story and a fun prequel to Singh’s series. The second entry is Angela Knight’s “Blood and Roses,” and you can easily follow along without having read any of her other books. Unfortunately, it just didn’t hold my interest, and the romance felt rushed, which happens frequently with a story of this length. “Shifting Sea” by Virginia Kantra is the third novella of the collection. It’s both historical and fantasy, since the story is about a mermaid and a soldier returning home from the war on the Peninsula. Well-written, but not my favorite. The final entry, Meljean Brook’s “Here There Be Monsters,” is outstanding. It’s the prequel to her steampunk novel The Iron Duke, and I couldn’t wait to read the novel after reading this novella. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Snarky Remarks on the Weather, plus Review of Madeline Hunter’s Provocative in Pearls

The longer I live in the Midwest, the more I realize that the weather here is really, really strange. I’ve had some native Midwesterners inform me that the “mild” summers make up for the long, hard winters. I think those people are nuts. Now, I know you’re thinking that no true southern belle would call someone nuts, and you’d be right, that’s just plain rude. However, it’s certainly better than calling him or her an out-and-out liar.  First, I’ve yet to actually experience one of these so-called mild summers. It’s pretty darn hot and humid, plus the winter lasts from November until May. How could 3 months of hot and humid make up for 7 months of freezing your buns off? My answer – it DOESN’T! And believe me, when you’re out walking the dog when it’s below 10 degrees, there is no such thing as matching your accessories. You wear the biggest arctic parka you can find and hope no one recognizes the dog at the end of the leash and realizes that you, southern belle that you are, are the one at the other end clutching the steaming bag-o-poop in your mittens.  And while it is thankfully no longer winter here, today was just another example of strange weather in the Midwest. The high only got to the mid-60s, which was quite pleasant, but too cold for this native southerner to expose her pasty white legs in shorts. And yet just two days ago, it was 90 degrees. 90 DEGREES!!! Frankly, at times the weather here stinks on ice, and to add insult to injury, you must walk on said ice 3 months out of the year.
So it should be no surprise that in the winter I like to snuggle under my electric blanket (cranked up to cremate) and read sizzling romance novels. Mmmmmm, toasty! In the summer, I prefer to sit out by the pool or beach to read those romances, but my genetics have blessed me with the aforementioned pasty white legs, which are attached to equally white arms and face, so sitting outside requires bathing in sunblock. Thus I have to enjoy my sizzling hot regency romances from the comfort of my UVA/UVB protected, air-conditioned home.
Over the last week or so, I’ve read several lovely regency romances from the comfort of my climate controlled home, but I’ve decided that today I’m going to focus on Madeline Hunter’s Provocative in Pearls. A few chapters into this book, I did NOT like the hero, the Earl of Hawkeswell, but I enjoyed the writing and wanted to see the heroine, Verity Thompson, give his lordship the heave-ho, so I stuck with the book. I’m really glad I did, because Ms. Hunter managed to resolve the conflict between hero and heroine in a way that was believable and fun  to read.
Provocative in Pearls is the second novel in Ms. Hunter’s The Rarest Bloom series, which I have been reading completely out of order, thanks to the odd collection of my public library. I hadn’t read the first book in the series, Ravishing in Red, but this novel picks up where the first left off without confusing the reader about backstory or the other characters. In Provocative in Pearls the Earl of Hawkeswell is very badly off financially. Two years prior to the beginning of the novel, he married an heiress, Verity Thompson, who ran off immediately following the ceremony. She’s been missing and presumed dead for those two years, but she can’t be declared dead yet, which means the impoverished Earl can’t claim the money he needs to support his tenants. It just so happens that as the novel begins, the Earl is traveling with his friend Summerhays (the hero of the first novel) to collect Summerhays’ wife Lady Audrianna at the Rarest Blooms, the home and flower shop where his wife is visiting friends. Upon their arrival, Hawkeswell recognizes one of Lady Audrianna’s friends as none other than his missing wife, Verity. He declares that she must go with him and resume married life.
The reason I really disliked Hawkeswell in the first third or so of the novel is his stubborn insistence on reminding Verity that as his wife, she has no legal rights. He tells her over and over again that she must go with him and do as he says. Historically, this is indeed accurate, but it doesn’t make him popular with either his wife or this reader. I for one pretty much wanted to kick him in his tightly fitted breaches. We learn that Verity was tricked into the marriage by her manipulating cousin Bertram, and she believes that the Earl was involved in the plot to marry her off from the beginning. His behavior certainly seems to imply this to her, even though it’s clear to the reader from the beginning that such is not the case.
I was impressed with Ms. Hunter’s ability to bring me around to Hawkeswell’s side. From the beginning we sympathize with Verity, particularly since she isn’t a foolish young girl who abandoned her husband for no reason. Her father had left her with majority control of his iron works, and she’s spent the last two years in hiding until she reaches her majority so she can legally protect the workers from her cousin. There is a mystery surrounding the iron works, disappearing men, and possible worker uprisings that take place in the latter part of the novel, and as Hawkeswell’s wife, she realizes that she has relinquished legal control of her inheritance and very likely any possibility of helping those she considers friends. Ms. Hunter very cleverly develops this mystery alongside the Earl and Verity’s growing relationship. As they grow to trust one another, Verity realizes that the Earl will protect her from her cousin while helping her to settle matters at the iron works. Because their relationship gradually changes and the Earl’s character is revealed to be trustworthy, the romance is a pleasure to read.
I only have two complaints about the novel. The first is that early in their relationship, the Earl uses Verity’s passion to attempt to convince her not to annul their marriage. I really hate it when authors have a hero “use” a heroine’s passion against her to prove his point. To me all he proves is that he’s a smug, controlling jerk. The second complaint is that the very end of the novel seems a bit rushed. To go into too much detail would involve giving away the ending, but at the end of one chapter Hawkeswell and his friends are on a boat, searching for a missing man, and then the next chapter skips over all that happened after that point and has them returning to The Rarest Blooms to pick up their wives. It was a bit jarring, especially since the novel was so well written to that point.
Despite that, I highly recommend this novel for poolside reading! Hopefully you can enjoy reading it somewhere away from those weather nuts who inform you that “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”, or “it’s a dry heat,” or “we need the flooding because we’re having a drought.” Just remember, it’s RUDE to tell those people that they’re nuts. Let them find out from a blog like the rest of us.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Review of The Greyfriar, plus Links to Sales

After a fun-filled visit to family, I took a few days off from the blog to recuperate. But as you well know, no vacation would be complete without books, and I read plenty. I also decided to clear out my shelves a bit and give the Goodreads bookswap program a try, while adding to my kindle library with Amazon Sunshine deals and sales from Avon and Hachette. I’ve included some links at the bottom of this post so you can check out the sales yourself.
Easily my favorite read of the vacation was The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith. It’s currently part of Amazon’s Sunshine Sale until June 15, and is a great book! This steampunk novel features an exciting world with vampires and magic, and the characters really stick with you long after you’ve finished the novel. In 1870 the vampires organized and attacked the humans, causing the demise of western culture and forcing the humans to flee south. The novel takes place 150 years after the initial attack, known as ‘The Great Killing,’ and the humans are working together to begin a war to regain their territories in Europe and the former US. The technology of this steampunk world is entirely believable because of the devastation wrought by the vampire attack in the 19th century, and we learn about this technology mostly through the characters’ travel and battles with the vampires.
The novel begins with Princess Adele and young Prince Simon of Equatoria traveling to the border of their lands, only to be attacked and separated by vampires. Princess Adele is captured by the vampires, but a mysterious man called the Greyfriar attempts to rescue her. When his attempt is unsuccessful, she’s carried off to London by the vampires. Her father has arranged a marriage with an American war hero, Senator Clark, who arrives in Equatoria to meet his bride, only to learn that she’s been abducted by the vampires. He mounts a rescue attempt, not realizing that Princess Adele is taking care of that herself. In London, Adele meets King Dimitry, the senile leader of the vampire hoard, and his two sons, Cesare and Gareth, and witnesses the brutality of the vampires while learning that vampire politics are as complex as those of the human world. The novel ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, but the arc of the story was resolved to my satisfaction, and I really enjoyed the romance between Adele and the Greyfriar.
The novel’s strengths are many. Both the protagonists and the secondary characters are well-rounded and the writers do an excellent job of switching points of view clearly. The Princess’ interactions with the various vampires in the former Great Britain force her to revise her opinions on vampire character, allowing her to develop as a woman and the future empress of Equatoria. She learns about prejudice and finds her own strength of character, all while beginning a romance. The mystery of who is Greyfriar is resolved fairly quickly in the novel, but Adele’s growing relationship with him allows the reader to realize along with her that vampires and their relationships are as nuanced as that of humans. The steampunk elements of the novel are integral parts of the fictional world and are seamlessly integrated into the action-packed narrative. This is the first of a trilogy and I’m really looking forward to the next installment, The Rift Walker, due out in September.
Book Sale Links
Here are the promised links for the book sales. Amazon is running their Sunshine Deals until June 15. The books are for the Kindle, although you can download them to your smart phone, iPad, or computer if you don’t have a Kindle. They cost between $0.99 and $2.99, and they span lots of different genres, including romance, business, children’s lit, self-help and others. Several of the Agency Publishers have also announced sales on ebooks, but those are not being promoted as heavily by Amazon. has put together a list of ebooks on sale by Avon and Hachette, and there’s also a link to explain how you can search on Amazon by publisher. Amazon’s decision to put non-Agency ebooks on sale has generated some interesting discussion about self-publishing and Amazon’s role in promoting books. I know that the books I’ve purchased that were part of the Sunshine Deals are published in trade paperback, which means they normally cost $9.99 for the Kindle. I never try a new author for $9.99, so this has been a great way for me to try new authors relatively risk-free.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

May Roundup of Books

Yesterday was so much fun that the rest of this week can’t possibly compete. First, two of my favorite authors, Ilona Andrews and Nalini Singh, released new books yesterday and they were both fantastic. It’s so rare to have your expectations met and exceeded, isn’t it? Both Magic Slays and Kiss of Snow were great books, and I highly recommend them. I also joined the 21st century yesterday with the arrival of my new smart phone. I was pleasantly surprised by how tech savvy I am, considering my last phone was just a phone. We’ll have to see how pleased I am once I receive my first bill.
After basking in the glow of downloading the Kindle app to my phone and re-reading sections of the two aforementioned books, I was surfing the blogosphere and found one of my favorite bloggers had done a short post of some of her favorite reads from this month. Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I thought I’d do the same! She highlighted books that were new releases this month, but I’m going to list favorite books I read this month that were new to me. Some of these books were released as long ago as (gasp!) 1986. These are not all the books I read in May, but they’re some of my favorites.
Lois McMaster Bujold Cordelia’s Honor
This is an omnibus of two novels, Shards of Honor (1986) and Barrayar, published together in 1999. Even if you’re not familiar with Bujold’s Vorkosigan series or even a sci-fi fan, these two novels are outstanding. The hero and heroine are older than your typical lovers in a romance – she’s in her 30s and he’s 40 – and the development of their romance is a pleasure to read, particularly since they begin as adversaries, if not quite the out and out enemies their societies would like them to be. Cordelia’s Honor is considered more sci-fi than romance, but it has enough elements of both to satisfy any reader of either genre.
Stacey Jay Dead on the Delta
I really enjoy novels that take place in the South, and this one doesn’t disappoint. The action takes place in Louisiana after fairies have mutated because of a chemical spill, and Annabelle Lee is one of the few humans immune to the deadly fairy bites. Because of her immunity, Annabelle is forced to work with an antagonistic ex-lover to help find a possible serial killer. She isn’t a very sympathetic character at the beginning, but by the end you’re rooting for her. This novel reminded me of Diana Rowland’s Blood of the Demon in its setting and use of forensic science and the arcane, which is always a good thing.
Karen Hawkins Scandal in Scotland
Karen Hawkins’ novels are always a lot of fun, and the only thing disappointing about Scandal in Scotland is that it ends too quickly. This is the second book in her Hurst Amulet series, and if you’ve read any of her other novels, some old favorites make appearances to help Marcail Beauchamp and William Hurst get together. Captain William Hurst needs to sail to Egypt with the infamous Hurst Amulet to free his brother Michael, who’s being held for ransom for the object. Unfortunately, his ex-lover Marcail is being blackmailed and her blackmailer demands that she steal the Amulet from William. There’s an exciting race towards Scotland after the amulet is stolen from Marcail, and the two are forced to work together to recover it and free Marcail of her blackmailer. It’s a great read for summer, but I would have liked it to be a bit longer, and I’m still not sure exactly what the amulet is for, although we do get a hint at its purpose towards the end of the novel.
Courtney Milan Unlocked (novella)
I learned about this novella from several romance blogs, and I’m so glad I did! It’s only 99₵ at Amazon and was worth much more. Courtney Milan self-published the novella, and it is so clear that she is an experience, published author, because the quality of the story is infinitely better than the other self-published work I’ve read. In this novella, Evan Carlton, Earl of Westfield, is returning to London after nearly 10 years away. Before he left, he’d singled out Lady Elaine Warren and made her an object of ridicule and misery at the hands of the ton. He hopes for her forgiveness and to rectify past wrongs, but when you read the story, you’ll realize just how difficult that task will be. He made her absolutely miserable, and she’s suffered ever since. This is a sweet love story, and it has encouraged me to try other Courtney Milan books.
Carrie Vaughn Kitty and the Silver Bullet
This is the fourth novel in Carrie Vaughn’s series about werewolf talk radio host Kitty Norville, and so far it’s my favorite. I did an earlier blog post about the public library’s odd collection of this series: they have books one through three, then seven, so I had to purchase this book for my kindle, but it was well worth it. Kitty and her packmate Ben are forced to return to Denver and find themselves in a turf war between vampires and Kitty’s old pack leaders. The pacing of this book was just right; there was plenty of action and tension between the warring factions, plus some sexual tension between Kitty and Ben. I believe you could pick up the series at this point and still follow along, but I highly suggest you read all three prior novels as you’ll enjoy the characters more.
Jacqueline Winspear Maisie Dobbs
Maisie Dobbs is the first in Winspear’s series of mysteries set in post-WWI London. Maisie Dobbs is a young women working as a private investigator in London ten years after the First World War ends. She was at Cambridge when war broke out and left school to serve as a nurse, witnessing innumerable horrors and experiencing personal loss. The novel is fascinating in its depiction of class differences and the opportunities available to women at the time. I highly recommend it but feel I should warn you that because of the setting and the mystery dealing with injured WWI veterans, it’ll leave you feeling wrung out. I suggest you read it on a sunny day, because it’s fairly grim in places, even though any violence is implicit and there’s no sex or inappropriate language.
Ilona Andrews Magic Slays
This is the long-awaited fifth installment of Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, set in Atlanta. As I mentioned earlier, I love books set in the South, and this is one of my favorites, because I’m an Atlanta native. It cracks me up to see how the different Atlanta neighborhoods have changed after the tech fails and magic makes its unpredictable return. I adore the characters of Kate Daniels and Curran, the Alpha of all the shapeshifters in Atlanta, and this novel picks up where the fourth, Magic Bleeds, ends, with the two mated and living in the Pack’s Keep. Seeing their relationship develop is a delight, and Kate’s snarky comments and dry wit make an appearance at just the right moments to help alleviate any tension. When Kate is hired to investigate a kidnapping, she learns that the man kidnapped was creating a deadly machine that is now in the hands of an anti-magic terrorist group. As Curran’s consort and alpha to the thousands of pack members, she has to find and disarm the weapon. In her race to do so, she learns some shocking and uncomfortable truths about her mother and step-father that lead her to question her relationship with Curran. This is an outstanding addition to the series, and I loved it. I think you could follow along without having read the previous novels, but it’s a lot more fun to read the others first.
Nalini Singh Kiss of Snow
Kiss of Snow is the tenth installment of Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series, and readers have been waiting for this book for a long time. Singh has been building the tension between wolf alpha Hawke and Psy Sienna Lauren for a long time. I wasn’t sure how this novel would turn out, because Sienna is only 19 while Hawke is in his early thirties. I’ve never been a big fan of large age differences between characters, even in Regency romances when it would be historically accurate. But Singh definitely convinced me with this one! Sienna is one of the most powerful Psy (psychic) characters we’ve seen to date, and she’s very capable of calling Hawke on his behavior and making him pay attention to her without acting immature. There’s also a secondary romance between Lara, the pack healer, and Walker, Sienna’s Psy uncle, that’s really touching. The tension between the pack and the Pure Psy factions that are threatened by the Psy-Changeling alliances has grown steadily throughout the series, and it reaches a critical point in this novel. It will be interesting to see where Singh goes next with the series, because the situations between the Psy and the Changelings and even among the Psy themselves have become chaotic. This is one of my favorites of the series, and I’ll be re-reading it many times!