Monday, November 28, 2011

Review of Sharon Cullen's Her Dark Knight

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! The holidays are always stressful for me, because we’re nearly to the end of the semester, which means lots-o-grading. I have several pending reviews, but I have to warn you that my posts might be a little less frequent, since final grades will be due in a few weeks, and I have to work to support my Kindle addiction.

Title: Her Dark Knight
Author: Sharon Cullen
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: November 28, 2011
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I must have been really tired when I read this book, because for some reason I kept hearing Monty Python in my head whenever I saw the title to this novel (think “kuh-ni-get” instead of knight). But despite my sophomoric humor, Her Dark Knight had a lot of promise, and I very much enjoyed the book. Unfortunately, it fell just a bit short on the romance. Even so, there are a few hints about another book set in the same world towards the end of the novel, and since I liked Her Dark Knight, I’ll probably check it out.
Madelaine (Lainie) Alexander’s boss sends her to a nightclub to get an important signature on documents from the club’s owner, Christien Chevalier, but when Lainie arrives, Christien declares the papers to be fakes and refuses to sign them. Lainie needs to keep her job so she can pay off her student loans (I feel your pain, sister!) and keep her father in an expensive nursing home, and that requires her convincing him to sign those papers. But she can’t explain why she feels so drawn to Christien or why he’s starring in her all-too-realistic nightmares.
Christien Chevalier is a Knight of the Templar and has lived hundreds of years. When a woman resembling his long-deceased love walks into his nightclub with papers sent by his enemy, he suspects a trap, but the more time he spends with Lainie, the more he believes that she’s the reincarnation of his love from the 14th Century. However, the timing of Lainie’s appearance is suspicious since Christien’s sworn to protect a mysterious artifact, and her boss has been fighting Christien for the artifact for centuries. Is Lainie as innocent as she appears or is she on the wrong side of this fight between good and evil?
I really liked the premise of this book - that an immortal knight would be reunited with his long-lost love. There are numerous flashbacks to 1307, when Christien and Madelaine met, and I found this part of the story engrossing. At that time, Madelaine was a married countess, and Christien a mere knight, so you know that’s not going to have a happy ending. I’m not a big fan of romances with one of the protagonists married to someone else, but Ms. Cullen handles it well. Madelaine’s husband is abusive, and hers is an arranged marriage, so no problems there. The romance is developed through the flashbacks, and Madelaine’s fear is tangible, with her love for Christien providing a welcome relief to her frightened existence.
While the romance is well developed in the flashbacks, I wasn’t convinced about the present-day romance. We’re told that Christien and Madelaine spend time together, but we don’t see them develop any relationship other than a sexual one. At one point Lainie asks Christien outright if he loves her or if his feelings are for the Madelaine of the past, and he tells her that he loves the present-day Lainie, not the woman he knew in the 14th Century. I just didn’t buy it. He had the 21st Century Lainie investigated, but he didn’t spend much time getting to know her, so I was a bit surprised that he would say he loved her at that point in the book.
The conflict in the book centers mainly on preventing the apocalypse, and this part of the storyline is very well done. I felt that the villains were a bit over the top but believable enough, given the paranormal elements, and the pace of the action will keep you turning the pages. My biggest concern was the deux ex machina nature of the ending, which felt a little contrived. In fact, I felt the ending was too rushed, because Christien and Lainie’s HEA is implied but not described.
The novel is approximately 84,000 words, and I think that it needed to be closer to 100,000. Ms. Cullen’s writing is excellent, and the transitions between the flashbacks and present day are smoothly executed, but the present day romance and the ending need development. However, I plan on reading Ms. Cullen’s next novel, because the writing in Her Dark Knight was so strong and the premise intriguing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review of Jill Shalvis's Head Over Heels

Title: Head Over Heels (Lucky Harbor #3)
Author: Jill Shalvis
Publisher: Forever
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: Purchased
Publication Date: November 22, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

Jill Shalvis’s contemporary romances are sweet, fun books with characters you’ll want to visit over and over again. The third book in her Lucky Harbor series, Head Over Heels, is no exception. I read the first in the series and loved it, but for some reason I didn’t read the second. I’m happy to report that I like Head Over Heels even more than I did Simply Irresistible. Despite a lack of strong conflict, this irrepressible romance was a delight, and I highly recommend it.
Chloe is the youngest of three sisters whose free-spirited mother has left them a Bed and Breakfast. Chloe was the only sister of the three raised by their mother, Phoebe, and exhibits much of her mother’s unbridled spirit and resistance to settling down. Despite her irreverent personality, Chloe has matured over the past year and she’s starting to see the attraction of remaining in Lucky Harbor and spending time with her sisters.
Straight-laced Sheriff Sawyer Thompson is the last person anyone would pair with the free-wheeling Chloe, but there’s no denying the attraction between the two. Despite numerous run-ins with Chloe and his own troubled youth, Sawyer and Chloe start an affair. But Sawyer’s involvement with a local DEA investigation and the interest in Chloe displayed by one of the men under investigation places the nascent affair under a strain. Sawyer needs to protect Chloe but wonders if he’ll be able to protect his heart at the same time.
I really enjoyed seeing how much Chloe has matured since the first book. She’s still light-hearted and carefree, but she’s less self-centered in her interactions with her sisters, Maddie and Tara. I also loved seeing how the relationship between the sisters has developed since the first book. Maddie and Tara are busy with their significant others, Jax and Ford (Sawyer’s best friends), and Chloe feels a bit left out but reacts in a mature way, which I wouldn’t have expected from her in the first book.
Chloe’s acute asthma plays a central role in the novel, particularly the romance with Sawyer, which I found really interesting. I think Ms. Shalvis handled this well, because her treatment of Chloe’s respiratory difficulties was matter-of-fact. I also thought it was clever how the asthma forced Chloe and Sawyer to be more thoughtful in their intimacy, since any physical exertion could cause a flair-up. Sawyer won major points with this reader in his sensitive treatment of Chloe’s nature and her condition.
My absolute favorite scene takes place when Chloe pushes her way into Sawyer’s house and “helps” him paint the living room. The scene is sexy and hilarious, especially when Jax and Ford discover the two the next morning, with strategically placed paint handprints. Very, very funny!
The majority of the conflict in this novel stems from Chloe and Sawyer’s diametrically opposed personalities, which made for a pleasurable, relaxed read, but there’s some tension surrounding his involvement with a DEA investigation. Unfortunately, this conflict felt a bit artificial to me, almost as though it were tacked on at the last minute, and I’m not convinced that it was entirely necessary.
I also felt that the resolution to the problems in Chloe and Sawyer’s relationship was a bit abrupt. The epilogue tied up all loose ends nicely, but I’m not sure that a Happy-Ever-After was necessary, when a Happy-For-Now would have sufficed and been more in keeping with Chloe’s character.
That said, this was a delightful read with personable characters that I highly recommend. I’ve enjoyed the few contemporary romances I’ve read by Ms. Shalvis, and I’m very much looking forward to reading more of them.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Review of Nalini Singh's Lord of the Abyss

Title: Lord of the Abyss (Royal House of Shadows #4)
Author: Nalini Singh
Publisher: Harlequin
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: November 22, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

The Royal House of Shadows series has been a bit unusual for me. Normally I only read series by one author, but this fall I decided to try two series that switch authors for each book in the series, with mixed results. I reviewed the third book in the Royal House of Shadows series, Lord of the Wolfyn by Jessica Andersen, and I enjoyed it, but I was really looking forward to the last book by Nalini Singh. She’s definitely written what I consider to be the strongest book of the four, but I was  a little disappointed by the ending.

I actually read this series out of order, and while I normally don’t recommend that, I think you can follow the individual books in this series quite easily, because there are clear prologues that set up the action for each book. Lord of the Abyss reads quite well as a stand alone novel, although I felt it was a bit short.

Just to catch up on the premise of the series, the Blood Sorcerer has taken over the kingdom of Elden, but before he could murder the four royal children, their dying parents used the last of their magic to send the children to different realms for their protection. Lord of the Abyss is the story of the youngest of the children, Micah, who was only 5 years old at the time of the Blood Sorcerer’s attack. Now that 20 years have passed, the royal children have a deadline for all four of them to attack the Blood Sorcerer and regain control of the castle, or Elden will be lost forever.

Liliana is the Blood Sorcerer’s daughter, and the novel begins with her transporting herself into the throne room of the Lord of the Abyss, Micah. He’s responsible for transporting the souls who’ve been condemned to damnation to the Abyss. Liliana, like her father, is a blood sorcerer, but she fuels her magic with her own blood, rather than murdering the innocent as her father does. She’s come to the Abyss to convince Micah that now is the time to return to Elden, but she soon realizes that he’s suppressed his memories of his childhood.

Liliana convinces Micah to allow her to stay by offering to cook for him, and she takes advantage of the opportunity to tell him stories about his childhood so he’ll remember his past. Despite her physical ugliness and a limp, Micah is intrigued by the first woman to defy him and is drawn to her. As their time together progresses, they grown more and more attracted to one another. Liliana has to convince Micah to return to Elden, and she wonders what he’ll do once he realizes that she’s the daughter of his family’s worst enemy.

This is easily my favorite of the four books in the series. Liliana is a fascinating heroine, and despite her belief that she’s weak, she is actually a very strong woman, willing to fight for Micah and right the evil wrought by her father. Micah is a real charmer as well. He frightens everyone in the castle and the nearby village, but in his dealings with Liliana he’s tender and affectionate. I like that he has a strong sense of honor even though he’s been separated from his family for nearly 20 years, and he comes off as a bit spoiled, which made for several lighthearted moments. However, I was disappointed with the twist concerning Liliana’s character at the end, which I felt was unnecessary.

One minor criticism of the novel is that we don’t witness a reunion between the siblings. In each of the books the other siblings are mentioned, and there’s a brief reference to Micah’s brothers and sister towards the end, but we don’t see any interaction between them, which would have made this series-ending novel stronger.

However, this was a fun, short read, and (as always with Ms. Singh) I very much enjoyed her creative world building. The secondary characters were charming, and I loved the small creatures in the castle, while the monsters sent by the Blood Sorcerer were appropriately vile. This is easily my favorite of the series, and I definitely recommend it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Early Review of Sabrina Jeffries' To Wed a Wild Lord

Title: To Wed a Wild Lord (Hellions of Halstead Hall #4)
Author: Sabrina Jeffries
Publisher: Pocket Star Books
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: Purchased
Publication Date: November 22, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

Sabrina Jeffries is one of my favorite historical authors, and her Hellions of Halstead Hall series is a hoot! I was lucky enough to find an early copy of the fourth book in the series, To Wed a Wild Lord, at the bookstore this weekend, and I devoured it in no time flat. Even if you haven’t read any of the other books in the series, you’ll easily be able to enjoy this delightful book.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the series, Lady Hetty Plumtree has grown exasperated with her five grandchildren and has issued an ultimatum. Either they all marry within one year or she’s cutting them out of her will. Since she’s quite wealthy and the principal source of their income, her grandchildren are less than thrilled with her threats. To Wed a Wild Lord focuses on the fourth of her grandchildren, Lord Gabriel Sharpe.
Ever since Gabriel’s best friend died in a horse race against him over seven years ago, Gabriel has been known as the Angel of Death for his ability to cheat Death in daring races. But no one outside his family knows that he’s wrought with guilt over Roger Waverly’s death. After Gabriel’s most recent race, Roger’s sister Virginia challenges him to a race, which offers Gabriel the perfect opportunity to assuage his guilt while meeting his grandmother’s demands by courting her.
Virginia’s grandfather, General Isaac Waverly, has always blamed Gabriel for Roger’s death, but the more time she spends with Gabriel, the more she begins to wonder about the truth behind the race. As she develops feelings for him, Virginia decides she needs answers about that race, but will the answers threaten her newfound happiness with Gabriel?
One of the reasons I enjoyed this novel so much is that both Gabriel and Virginia are rational adults and act in reasonable ways. Yes, Virginia is spirited, but unlike many “spirited” heroines I’ve read elsewhere, she doesn’t act rashly. She challenges Gabriel to a race, but she’s an experienced handler of the reins and believes that she has a legitimate chance of winning. Gabriel is also an appealing hero, as he’s clearly an honorable man who deeply regrets foolish mistakes he made years ago. We learn that his racing is actually motivated by his interests in thoroughbred racing, which gives his character depth that wasn’t apparent in earlier novels.
I also enjoyed the secondary characters in the novel. It’s difficult to revisit couples from prior books in series without distracting the new reader from the current couple, but Ms. Jeffries manages just the right balance between time spent with Gabriel’s family and that with Virginia. It was also a pleasant surprise to see Lady Hetty and General Waverly spark a late-life romance, and the author gives us hints about Lady Celia Sharpe’s romance in the next book, which I’m certainly looking forward to reading.
My biggest concern has to do with the mystery surrounding Gabriel’s parents. This might be the one aspect of the novel that will confuse new readers, because they won’t have all the background concerning the investigation that we’ve learned in earlier books. We do learn about Gabriel’s parents' murders in the prologue, and several times throughout the novel the investigation continues. However, there doesn’t seem to be any resolution in sight, nor is the mystery as integral to the plot of this book as it was in several of the other novels in the series. I’m interested to see how this part of the overarching storyline plays out in the series finale, but it seemed almost more of a distraction in this book than in others.
That said, I highly recommend To Wed a Wild Lord. Ms. Jeffries is an artful storyteller, and the romance between Virginia and Gabriel is charming. This book, along with many of her others, will definitely be added to my keeper shelf.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review of Nicola Cornick's Desired

Title: Desired (Scandalous Women of the Ton #5)
Author: Nicola Cornick
Publisher: HQN Books
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: November 15, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

Desired is the first Nicola Cornick book I’ve read, but it will not be the last! This was a delightful historical romance that I’ll be re-reading many times, and I can’t wait to catch up on her backlist. There’s plenty of angst to go around, but it’s leavened with a good dose of humor as well, and the mature hero and heroine are a breath of fresh air. Even though Desired is the fifth book in the Scandalous Women of the Ton series, you can read it without having read any of the other books, as this book definitely stands on its own.
Tess Darent, the Dowager Marchioness of Darent, is one of the more scandalous ladies of the ton, but what few realize is that she’s an ardent philanthropist and reformer. Unfortunately, in 1816 there are vicious government crack downs on reformers, who are seen as threatening the established order (and therefore the government). Tess is a gifted artist who has been publishing political cartoons anonymously while she’s leading a reform organization, but if caught she could be imprisoned for her actions.
As the novel begins, former American privateer Owen Purchase, now Viscount Rothbury, is aiding the government in its crackdown on the reformers. When he catches Tess at a brothel, he realizes that she’s involved in the movement, but only a few days after their meeting he’s shocked when she proposes marriage as an attempt to escape prosecution. After all, a husband cannot testify about a wife’s incriminating behavior, and Tess needs a husband’s protection to safeguard her reputation. Rothbury’s intrigued by this woman hiding her true nature behind a scandalous façade, but he’ll have to work hard to convince her to make theirs a true marriage rather than the marriage of convenience she proposes.
Although it took me a couple of chapters to get into the book, once I was about 15% in I was hooked. Owen is determined to court Tess, even though she’s equally determined to keep theirs a marriage in name only, and the courtship between the two is fun, sexy, and tender. We gradually learn along with Owen that Tess’ troubled second marriage left painful scars, but it’s really admirable how Tess has found ways to cope. Owen is a bit rough because of his American upbringing, but he and Tess deal together remarkably well, probably because of their plain-speaking.
I really liked Tess’ character, because despite her obvious pain over the events in her past and society’s determination to view her as scandalous, she finds ways to live a full and meaningful life. Her past is very painful, but I liked how Ms. Cornick dealt with it. Instead of Tess allowing herself to become a victim, she takes charge of her life in the best way she can and extends her aid to others in similar situations.
Unfortunately, the last part of the book felt extremely rushed, especially after Tess and Owen’s wedding. Owen learns that Tess’ second husband sexually and verbally abused her and decides that they should delay the wedding night until Tess can be comfortable with intimacy. So far, so good, but less than a day later Tess decides she’s ready, and they consummate the marriage. It felt a bit bizarre, to be honest. I found it a bit disturbing that she was so quick to jump into bed with Owen after having such visceral reactions to being touched at all by a man only a few hours earlier.
The conclusion also was a bit of a let-down, because it occurred so quickly. The resolution to Tess and Owen’s difficulties with the government in regards to her reformer activities felt a bit too deus ex machina. This is the only time in the novel when I wondered if I would have a different reaction if I’d read the other books in the series, because it seemed to come out of the blue, and the character who intervenes seems to have changed abruptly. I did wonder if perhaps his character was explored more in depth in prior books, and that’s why the ending felt so rushed.
Despite the rushed ending, this was an absolutely charming and delightful read. I’ll definitely be adding Ms. Cornick to my list of favorite historical romance authors, and I look forward to reading more of her books.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review of Alix Rickloff's Dangerous Magic

Title: Dangerous Magic
Author: Alix Rickloff
Publisher: Carina Press
Formats: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: October 31, 2011
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

It’s not often that I find a historical romance with a heroine not from the aristocracy, so it was a real pleasure to read Alix Rickloff’s Dangerous Magic, which features Gwenyth Killigrew, a healer with the Sight. I hadn’t read any of Ms. Rickloff’s work before, but I very much enjoyed this book. While I had a few minor complaints about Dangerous Magic, overall I felt this was a strong novel with intriguing characters.
When infamous smuggler Captain Rafe Fleming shows up injured at her doorstep, Gwenyth can’t turn him away. Her calling as a healer wouldn’t allow her to refuse him, but she’s also attracted to the injured man. She’s the last of a long line of women who have the sight, and soon she’ll need to have a daughter whom she can train in the healing arts. Gwyneth is planning on finding a father with whom she’ll conceive her child, then raise her daughter on her own as the other women in her family have done. Rafe Fleming seems like the perfect candidate to father her child.
Rafe Fleming has worked for nearly a decade as a smuggler ever since he was thrown out of the Royal Navy. Now that Rafe’s earned his fortune, he plans on returning to the family fold and finding a respectable wife. When Gwenyth proposes that he father her child, Rafe sees the perfect opportunity to use her ability with the Sight to screen potential wives. He suggests that she pose as his fiancée to aid him with his search and then return to her life on the Cornwall coast. But both their plans begin to unravel when their fake engagement throws the two together more than they’d like. When their attraction to one another becomes more than merely physical, can the two lovers from such different backgrounds find a future together?
I was pleased by this novel’s readability. I’ve seen a few other reviews that complain about the choppiness of Ms. Rickloff’s writing, but truthfully I enjoyed the book, and it drew me in really quickly. I had absolutely no expectations before reading it and made the mistake of starting it late at night, thinking I’d read a few chapters then pick it up the next day. That was a big mistake, because Gwenyth and Rafe kept me turning the pages.
I like that both characters are unusual for historical romances. Rafe’s troubled past and the lack of support from his family during a difficult time made him a sympathetic character, and I enjoyed watching the family drama unfold. But more importantly, the chemistry between Rafe and Gwenyth is palpable. At times you’ll want to smack both characters for trying to deny their attraction, but the sexual tension is smoldering.
There are two aspects of the novel that bothered me, however. The first has to do with Rafe’s family. It’s a nice surprise when most of Rafe’s family welcomes him back with open arms. But Rafe’s younger brother Derek, now a clergyman, reacts to Rafe’s return with hostility and anger that frankly I never truly understood. Derek attempts to explain his feelings by saying that Rafe could have let them know where he was (true), but I never really bought his excuse. Derek also seemed to do a complete turnaround in his feelings inexplicably in the book, suddenly supporting Rafe in his pursuit of Gwenyth. It was just too abrupt, and I felt his character never developed satisfactorily.
The second aspect of the novel that bothered me has to do with Rafe’s childhood sweetheart, Anabel. She’s portrayed as a gold digging, mercenary woman, and Rafe acknowledges that aspect of her character. He even recognizes that she’s attempting to engage his interest after rejecting him so cruelly in the past, yet he still turns to her at times in attempts to deny his attraction and feelings for Gwenyth. It really bothered me that he would have such strong feelings for the heroine and yet make out with a woman he despises.
Nevertheless, overall this was an enjoyable read with a fun twist to the historical romance genre. I like that she chose such an unusual heroine, and I’ll certainly be looking for more of Ms. Rickloff’s books in the future.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Early Review of Laura Anne Gilman's Tricks of the Trade

Title: Tricks of the Trade (Paranormal Scenes Investigation #3)
Author: Laura Anne Gilman
Publisher: Luna
Format: Trade Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: November 15, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

I’m a huge fan of Laura Anne Gilman’s urban fantasy Retrievers series, so I was really excited when she began publishing the spin-off Paranormal Scenes Investigation series featuring Bonnie Torres. If you’re a fan of CSI-type shows and urban fantasy, I think you’ll really enjoy reading about Bonnie and the other PUPIs (Private, Unaffiliated, Paranormal Investigations – pronounced puppies) as they investigate magical crimes. While I think you can follow the third book in the series, Tricks of the Trade, without having read the first two books in the series, you’ll definitely enjoy Bonnie’s interaction with the other investigators more if you start the series from the beginning.
The Paranormal Scenes Investigation series is very similar to an episode of CSI, if CSI were paranormal. Just as the investigators on the television show work on several different cases at once, there are three concurrent storylines in Tricks of the Trade. The PUPIs have to investigate two crimes: one that forces them to deal with the NYPD when a floater is discovered in the river and the other helping the wealthy Mr. Wells recover his stolen objects. The floater turns out to be a dead fatae, a paranormal-type creature unable to use magic, while Mr. Wells is a Null, or a human being who is unable to use magic. In comparison, all the PUPIs are considered Talent: they can manipulate current, a magical cousin to electricity that allows them to investigate crimes committed with magic. Mr. Wells is convinced that a Talent has stolen his trinkets and ransacked his home, although the investigation soon proves more complicated than it initially seems. The appearance of the Roblin, a mischief imp fascinated by Bonnie and her colleagues, is the third narrative thread in the novel and provides some mild amusement for the reader, although it’s troublesome for the investigators.
While Bonnie and her colleagues investigate these crimes, she and her boss, Benjamin Venec, are fighting their attraction for one another. Their situation is more complex than a mere office romance, since their current is starting to merge, allowing them to speak to each other telepathically and sense the other’s feelings. Both Bonnie and Venec resist the Merge, because they resent what they perceive as fate intervening in their lives and forcing them to be with someone not of their choosing.
While the plot comes across here as complex, in truth the mysteries unfold in a natural manner, and the writing is engaging and easy to follow. It may take you a while to fully understand the world-building if you haven’t read the other books in the series, but truthfully you can enjoy the cases investigated by the PUPIs with ease, a big selling point for any novel.
I also like the multiple points of view in this book. Bonnie’s narration is all in the first person, but we see the other characters from the third person POV. I thought this was an interesting choice of narrative style, because you don’t usually see that combination but it was clear at all times who was speaking and we got a little insight into what the other PUPIs were thinking. I really like that we’re able to see a bit of Venec’s feelings towards Bonnie and learn more about his reaction to the Merge. I should point out that in the e-ARC I received there were no spaces to indicate changes in the POVs, so you’d be reading along and all of a sudden realize Bonnie wasn’t the one speaking any longer. However, I fully expect this to be resolved in the final edition of the novel.
I find the paranormal CSI tone of the novel to be a lot of fun, and the concurrent storylines are easy to follow while keeping the action moving. My only real criticism is that early in the book Bonnie has a vision of the future that involves a sense of impending doom and a dragon, but the situation never materializes. I’m sure this is part of an arc that will appear in future books, but it was distracting, since at first it appeared that the vision was warning about the arrival of the mischief imp, the Roblin. However, it soon became clear that the Roblin has nothing to do with Bonnie’s vision and nothing further is revealed. The vision was completely superfluous to the rest of the story, and it didn’t advance any overarching themes in the series either.
That said, this is one of my favorite urban fantasy series, because I find the idea of a paranormal crime scenes investigation unit so much fun. I highly recommend this series to any UF or CSI fans!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review of Heather Killough-Walden’s Avenger’s Angel

Title: Avenger’s Angel (The Lost Angels #1)
Author: Heather Killough-Walden
Publisher: Signet
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: November 1, 2011
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I’ve long been a fan of Heather Killough-Walden’s self published books. Most are priced at only $ 0.99, and she has a strong authorial voice with plots that tend to feature intriguing twists. So I was thrilled when I learned that Signet would be publishing her newest series, The Lost Angels. The first book in the series, Avenger’s Angel, just came out last week and is a paranormal romance featuring Angels, a trend that’s becoming more popular these days. While I’m disappointed that the book doesn’t add much new to the current flock of Angel-themed PNRs, overall it’s a solid first book in the series and an enjoyable read.
The premise of the book is that over 4,000 years ago four archangels were promised mates, or archesses, but when the females were sent to Earth for their protection, the archangels elected to fall to Earth to search for them. Uriel, the archangel of vengeance, is the first to find his archess in the person of Eleanore Granger, a woman hunted by a mysterious organization for her ability to heal others.
I like that this book sets up the series well while keeping our interest in the main couple. The other archangels, Gabriel, Azrael, and Michael are also searching for their archesses, though after 4,000 years they have nearly given up hope. There are a few hints that Gabriel’s archess has been discovered, setting up the next book in the series, but the archangels’ enemy, Samael, is overwhelmingly my favorite character in the novel. He’s an enigmatic villain, as he attempts to secure Eleanore’s interest and tells her half-truths in an effort to undermine Uriel. However, his friendship with Lilith and the archangels’ guardian Max’s interest in Lilith create interesting secondary stories that I’m looking forward to seeing developed in future books.
The book moves along well, but the second half definitely picks up the pace, as there’s a great deal more action taking place. True to Ms. Killough-Walden’s style in her self-published books, there are several unexpected twists that I really enjoyed. The final battle will keep you turning the pages, and I love that Eleanore is the one who saves the day, rather than the male characters. This is all the better because Eleanore really isn’t the kick-arse kind of female protagonist we’re used to seeing in PNR and UF, but she manages to surprise the males.
The romance between Uriel and Eleanore didn’t blow me away, to be honest. I’ve written elsewhere that I’m not a huge fan of the “fated mates” trope, and this series relies heavily upon that idea. At times the so-called good guys seemed more interested in trapping Eleanore into her “fated” relationship than in Uriel making a sincere effort to woo her. In fact, I felt that Samael set off more sparks with Eleanore than Uriel did (perhaps because he’s the forbidden bad boy?). So while I liked the couple together, the romance aspect of the novel felt a bit forced.
A minor complaint about the book is that it really doesn’t feel all that original. I’m not sure if that’s because there are so many angel related PNR/UF novels out at the moment or not, but despite that, the premise is strong and the characters intriguing enough to keep my interest. I’ll definitely read the next book in the series.
I was, however, very disappointed that Ms. Killough-Walden’s voice was so subdued in this novel. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed her self-published books so much is how strong her authorial voice is. You could open any of her self-published books and know immediately that she was the author, which is a huge selling point. I’m not sure I could say the same for Avenger’s Angel.
All of my criticism of the novel can easily be resolved in future books, so I have high hopes for this series. Ms. Killough-Walden remains a favorite of mine, and I’m looking forward to seeing the other archangels find their archesses.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review of Adrienne Giordano's Risking Trust

Title: Risking Trust (Private Protectors #3)
Author: Adrienne Giordano
Publisher: Carina Press
Formats: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: November 7, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

I’ve really been enjoying Adrienne Giordano’s Private Protectors series. I’m not usually a fan of romantic suspense, but her books are a lot of fun and full-o-the-smexy! Risking Trust is the third novel published in the series, but it’s set before the first novel, Man Law. I absolutely loved the hero of Man Law (see my review), Vic Andrews, and he makes a few appearances to comedic effect in this prequel. I think Man Law remains my favorite of the three, but I love reunion romances, and Risking Trust really hits the mark.
As the novel begins, Roxann Thorgesson’s life is suddenly a lot more stressful than it was a month ago. Her father recently died of a heart attack, leaving her in charge of the family owned newspaper, and her ex-lover has just been accused of murdering his wife, Alicia. Michael Taylor and Alicia had been involved in a nasty divorce for over two years, so when she’s murdered, he’s the first suspect. When it becomes clear that the police aren’t planning on looking any further than Alicia’s soon-to-be ex-husband, Michael offers his former lover Roxann exclusive access to his story if she’ll have the newspaper investigate the murder. Roxann’s reluctant to have anything to do with Michael after he broke her heart 12 years ago, but she realizes that if they can solve the mystery, the paper will have a major scoop. Trouble is, it soon becomes clear that Alicia’s murder isn’t a random act of violence, and the more they investigate, the higher the cover-up of her death goes. Roxann knows Michael’s innocent, but can she prove his innocence before the murderer sets his sights on her?
I love that Ms. Giordano writes such strong heroines. In the prior two books, the heroines had strong personalities, and the heroes loved them because of that strength. Roxann is no exception, and as a former gold medal Olympic runner, she’s also physically fit. But Roxann is particularly vulnerable emotionally because of the recent death of her beloved father. She’s trying to deal with her grief by focusing on work, but Michael’s reappearance in her life creates more emotional distress. Fortunately he quickly proves that he’s there to support Roxann in everything, even if he’s undergoing a difficult time as well.
Michael is a sexy and appealing hero, and he too has his vulnerabilities. I like that while all three of the male leads in Ms. Giordano’s novels are alpha males working in the security business, they still appreciate the strong female protagonists, even if those heroes have their sexist moments. Michael owns his security firm, but he has a lot of respect for Roxann and her career in the newspaper industry. He definitely screwed up when he left Roxann all those years ago, and his marriage was a disaster, mainly because he was still in love with Roxann, but he works hard to redeem himself. He’s very swoon-worthy!
As for Michael’s almost ex-wife, Alicia, she’s a strong presence in the novel. I’m not particularly fond of romances featuring the horrible ex, and frankly Alicia is over the top. Her murder sets up all the action of the novel and reunites the lovers, so she’s a necessary part of the novel, but I’m not sure she had to be such a slut for the book to work. This is a personal preference, though, because I’ve grown tired of this particular trope, so keep that in mind.
My only other criticism is that towards the end it becomes easy for the reader to spot the villain, yet Roxann continually trusts this character. There are obvious reasons why she does so, but a few of her decisions border on too stupid to live, which bothered me. I suspect that the problem is more that the villain is too obvious to us, because given Roxann’s emotional state and all that’s going on with the murder investigation, it’s not hard to see why she would continue to trust that character.
Overall, I very much enjoyed the novel, and I highly recommend it. I hope that the books sell well enough as ebooks that they’ll be published in paperback in the future, as Ms. Giordano writes taut thrillers with sexy romance. I’m all in favor of strong female characters, and I’ve been pleased to find them in her novels.  

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Random Snark in an Attempt to Avoid Working

I really should be working, because I am so overdue on updating my gradebook it’s not even funny. All my grading is done and the grades written down, but I have to enter them all into the computer, and, frankly, anything that requires me to put on my glasses (and squinting at grades and computer screens definitely counts) will not be happening today. This is why I love my Kindle. I can make the letters BIG and there’s no backlit screen, so no glasses. Win! But since the work spirit is NOT moving me today, and I’ve had several funny moments this week, I thought I’d share some completely unconnected thoughts that I hope you’ll find amusing.
Zaniness at Ladies’ Night Out
Lettie, ready for Halloween on Thursday.
I’ve posted before about how much I love our Thursday night Ladies’ Night Out, and this week we resumed after a week off for Trick-or-Treat. Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “Self, Halloween was on Monday, not last Thursday,” you’d be right. The small town I live in has declared that Trick-or-Treat will always be the last Thursday in October from 6 to 7 p.m., no matter which day of the week is Halloween. Crazy? Yes, yes, it is, but certainly no crazier than allowing your 8 year old to strap a plastic shotgun to his back and carry around a plastic chainsaw. Yes, that was a real costume I witnessed last week. I think he was supposed to be a character from a zombie movie that I’m sure I haven’t seen, because zombie movies squick me out. (shudders in horror)
Anyhoo, this week’s LNO was a much needed reprieve from the horror that is grading online Spanish workbooks (REALLY not good for the eyes). We were all equipped with our glasses of house wine when I overheard some comments from the next table over. There were several couples, all well into their seventh decade, and they were discussing next week’s election. One of the gentlemen, apparently without any sense of irony, blurted out, "Well, it's all the OLD people! You know they want to vote Republican but vote Democrat, because they're afraid the Republicans will cut Medicare!" I find this REALLY funny considering one of the ladies at the table was wearing a lime-green track suit and had blue hair.
Of course, “old” is a matter of perception, as I learned to my chagrin earlier in the week. We’re working on the dreaded past tense in Spanish, and the students were talking to each other about how old they were in 1995. One of the better students told her classmate that in 1995 she was 18, which had me doing a double-take since I graduated high school in 1994. When I told her I was 18 in 1994, she laughed and said, “I meant 8!!! I’m not THAT old!!!” You’ll be happy to learn that student still lives. Actually, she immediately realized what she’d said, and the entire class had a good laugh. Although I was crying a little inside. Okay, not really, but you get the picture.
Lettie is the Peeing-est Dog EVAH
In case you haven’t noticed, I have a beagle named Lettie. She’s a rescue – I adopted her from the Humane Society when she was 5, and she’s a great dog. Unfortunately, Lettie’s getting older, and she’s now 13. For a 13 year old dog, she’s in great shape, but last year she had to have bladder surgery, and our carpets have never been the same since. She was finally getting better this spring/summer, only to go on a diuretic for her heart this fall.

Me in my lovely Red Parka. Sexy, sexy!!

So now we have to take her outside a LOT. And when I say a LOT, I mean 4-5 times between the hours of 6 and 10 p.m. alone. I’m really not looking forward to the months of January and February, when it’ll be 10 degrees outside, and I’ll be waddling around the snow in my huge red parka, looking like a giant potato with toothpick legs holding a small, steaming bag-o-poop in my little mittened-hand.
I should explain about the red parka. Years ago I moved from Georgia to Kentucky for graduate school, and I asked the parents for a new coat, because Kentucky is farther north, and they actually get SNOW! So my wonderful parents had me pick out a parka from the Lands’ End catalog, and my Mother (bless her heart) insisted I get a red one, because “That way if you’re caught in a blizzard the rescuers can find you!”

Not surprisingly, every Yankee to whom I’ve told this story dies laughing. This is all the more amusing when you consider that I only wore the Red Parka maybe 3 times in all the years I lived in Kentucky. Since moving to Ohio, I break out the oh-so-fashionable parka every winter. Lettie is extremely slow in her search for the perfect spot for her special rinse, so the Red Parka is a necessity. In fact, when I wear it I look a lot like Kenny from South Park. It’s the fashion kiss of death, and I have to wonder I’d be able to get up without assistance if I fell down, but staying warm trumps keeping my dignity when it’s that cold outside.
Truthfully, as I get older I find myself less worried about how fashionable my coat is and more concerned with protecting my extremities, so the Red Parka will remain a staple of my winter wardrobe. But if I start wearing a lime green track suit and sporting a blue hairstyle, I might ask the DH to smother me with my pillow. After all, one must have standards.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review of Eileen Wilks' Death Magic

Title: Death Magic (World of the Lupi #8)
Author: Eileen Wilks
Publisher: Berkley Sensation
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: Purchased
Publication Date: November 1, 2011
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Eileen Wilks’ World of the Lupi is one of my favorite series, and I believe that it’s seriously underappreciated among fans of urban fantasy and paranormal romance. The heroine, Lily Yu, is the only female protagonist of Asian descent that I can think of in paranormal romance (if you know of any others, I’d love to hear about it!), and she is one tough chick. I love her relationship with werewolf Rule Turner, and if you’re a fan of J.D. Robb’s In Death series and its longstanding couple Eve Dallas and Roarke, I think you will enjoy Ms. Wilks’ series as well. With the exception of Night Season (book 4), which focuses on another couple, the series is devoted to Lily and Rule.
If you are new to the series, I highly recommend that you not begin with Death Magic. While you could probably follow along easily enough, you would be missing so much of the back story that I think it worthwhile to recommend that you start with book 1, Tempting Danger. (This review will contain spoilers for earlier books in the series, so consider yourself forewarned.) Watching Rule and Lily meet and fall in love is too much fun to miss, and Tempting Danger is one that I find myself re-reading frequently. Another favorite is book 5, Mortal Sins, because we get to see Rule interact with his charming 9 year old son, Toby, but my absolute favorite in the series was Book 7 – Blood Challenge. That said, Death Magic was an outstanding addition to the series, and I highly recommend it.
Death Magic deals with the beginning of the Lupi’s war against their enemy, the female goddess referred to only as the Great Bitch, and as such the novel is darker in tone than many of the others. Rule and Lily are back in Washington D.C., because they are testifying at Senate hearings. Lily is conflicted about her job, because Ruben Brooks, her superior at the FBI, informs her that he’s heading up an extra governmental organization to fight their enemy and invites her to join. Lily’s torn, because this organization violates all her beliefs about rule of law, but Ruben’s precognition has sent him visions of an apocalyptic future if they don’t manage to stop their enemy. Lily and Rule have had previous run-ins with this enemy, since she tends to operate throuth the anti-magic group Humans First. When the Senator questioning Rule and Lily at the hearings is discovered murdered and a witness places Ruben Brooks at the scene, Lily joins the official investigation. But just as the case becomes more involved, Lily begins to experience mysterious migraines and stroke-like symptoms. Can she continue the investigation while fighting a more formidable enemy?
Ms. Wilks’ novels are always complex and feature tight writing, and Death Magic is no exception. The world building in her books blows me away, particularly this one, since we learn more about the rules governing magic. How she manages to keep track of them all, much less invent said rules, never fails to astonish me. The secondary character of Cullen Seabourne, sorcerer and lupus, serves as our main source for this information, but I like that we learn about the world gradually through give and take with Cullen and other characters so there’s never an infodump.
The pacing of the novel is also well done. We have several plotlines running simultaneously with no confusion on the reader’s part. The threat hanging over all the characters of a possible apocalypse maintains the tension throughout the novel, but the last fourth of the novel really takes off with a white-knuckled race to the finish. While I was able to identify the traitor Lily and the others were looking for fairly early, I was surprised by the plot twist concerning Ruben. I did NOT expect that at all, and kudos to Ms. Wilks for a clever resolution to that situation.
My main complaint about Death Magic has more to do with my affection for certain secondary characters in the series than any flaws in the writing, which is stellar as usual. Cullen is one of my favorite characters, but because of the darker tone of this novel, we see less of his charm than usual. Also, neither Toby nor Benedict makes an appearance, and the absence of Lily’s Grandmother is very much felt. I’m not sure that their presence is necessary to advance the story, but as a fan of the series I missed them.
Overall this is an outstanding addition to the series. I enjoyed the deepening relationship between Lily and Rule, and I thought that the anger and resentment Rule felt towards the lupi’s Lady because of Lily’s health was an interesting development in his character. If you’re a fan of werewolves in any form, I highly recommend Death Magic and the World of the Lupi.

Review of Cara Elliott's Too Wicked To Wed

Title: Too Wicked to Wed (Lords of Midnight #1)
Author: Cara Elliott
Publisher: Forever
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: November 1, 2011[i]
Rating: 3.75 out of 5

Ms. Elliott is an author I’ve never read before, and when I saw that Too Wicked To Wed was the first in a new series, I thought this would be the perfect time to check out her books. Although I had a few issues with some of the nicknames for the male characters (more on that later), I thought this was an engaging read with intriguing characters and steamy romance.  
Lady Alexa Hendrie[ii] has always managed her father’s estate, but now that her brother Sebastian is married, she will be relinquishing that job. She therefore decides to head to London and attempts to find a husband on the marriage mart, but her years of study and work on the estate have left her outspoken and intelligent, a dangerous combination in a lady competing with simpering misses. Her impetuous ways have gotten her into trouble before, most notably when she entered the notorious gaming hell and brothel, The Wolf’s Lair, to search for her brother. The owner of the Wolf’s Lair, Connor Linsley, Earl of Killingworth, kissed her silly, and she’s never been able to forget the experience.
Connor Linsley, or the Irish Wolfhound as society likes to call him, is undergoing a run of bad luck. He’s forced to borrow money from his friend Gryffin Dwight to cover his losses at the tables. Unfortunately, during a night of heavy play at the card tables, Gryff writes an IOU on the back of the slip of paper granting him half ownership of the Wolf’s Lair. To compound his error, Gryff’s lost to none other than Lady Alexa, disguised as a Norwegian youth. Suddenly Connor Linsley and Lady Alexa find themselves co-owners of a disreputable gaming hell and the focus of a vicious attack. When the two escape to Linsley Close so Connor can recover from his wounds, they must find a way to fight their attraction to each other, for he is Too Wicked To Wed a young lady like Alexa.
I always enjoy heroines who are intelligent and outspoken, and Lady Alexa is no exception. I like that she’s well-educated in spite of society’s strictures and has experience running an estate, which comes in handy when she arrives at the nearly abandoned Linsley Close. In fact, the time that the hero and heroine spend at Linsley Close is my favorite, because we witness Alexa winning over both Connor and his people. Alexa works hard to restore the manor, and I really enjoyed both her competent manner and upbeat personality.
Connor Linsley is one of the grumpier heroes I’ve read in a while, in addition to being quite the hottie. Nothing says sexy like a bad-boy hero, and you don’t get much worse than a notorious rake who’s secretly running a brothel and a gaming hell. Of course, we learn later that he’s quite the “softie,” as he pays fair wages and protects the women who work for him, even going so far as to help them realize their dreams after they retire. But he can’t resist Alexa’s innocent passion, and frankly he doesn’t put up much of a fight.
I only have two complaints about the novel, the first of which drove me batty while reading. When I read the prologue and several later comments made by Alexa concerning her brother, I was under the impression that they were characters from another book. Sebastian is well-known to the other male characters and apparently has a history with them, since Connor references a favor Sebastian grudgingly owes him. However, when I searched Ms. Elliott’s webpage, I couldn’t find any mention of Sebastian. It’s very possible that I was looking in the wrong place, but the way the action unfolds in the prologue led me to believe that I had started reading in the middle of the series, which is not the case. In fact, Too Wicked to Wed is the beginning of a new trilogy.
My other issue with the novel has to do with the dog-related nicknames for the three male leads featured in the trilogy. Connor is the Irish Wolfhound, his friend Gryff is the Deerhound, and their mysterious friend Cameron is the Bloodhound. Frankly, all the dog references got old quickly. I was a little surprised that the trilogy is entitled Lords of Midnight, because I’m not sure how that title plays into their nicknames. It was a bit odd, and I’m not convinced that Gryff would be the Deerhound just because he runs after women. Cameron’s name, the Bloodhound, seems more appropriate, given his tendency to hunt down and acquire objects for himself and others. Still, it felt forced.
However, the romance was steamy and the heroine spirited, and I really enjoyed their time in the middle of the novel at Linsley Close the most. Since I usually get bored around the halfway point, this was a huge selling point for me. And despite the canine nicknames, the secondary characters were really interesting, and I will without a doubt check out Gryff’s book when it releases.

[i] Just FYI, the mass market paperback version of this book was available last Tuesday, but for some reason the eBook version wasn’t available until today. I’m not sure why that is, because I haven’t seen that sort of delay in releasing an ebook in nearly a year. In fact, just a few weeks ago you could purchase the ebook of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Scandalous Desires a week earlier than the paperback, which also seems odd. Anyway, as of November 1 you should be able to purchase Cara Elliot’s Too Wicked To Wed in either paper or electronic form.
[ii] In the synopsis on Amazon and Goodreads, she’s referred to as Lady Alexa Bingham, but in the ARC and other reviews have called her Alexa Hendrie.