Archive | May, 2013

Series Review: Marie Hall Twists Fairy Tales into Sexy and Romantic Stories in her Kingdom Series

31 May

Her Mad Hatter (#1 Kingdom Series – Hatter and Alice) by Marie Hall (Marie Hall Publishing, July 2012)

I’m a sucker for romance novels based off fairy tales or classic literature but have found the quality of such books to be rather variable. Either it’s more about the romance with only a very loose reference to the original tale or the construct of the story is belabored to death and sucks all the sexy out the story.

Marie Hall‘s Kingdom series not only takes five well-known stories and sets them on their (very) sexy ear, but manages to also reinvent characters and twist plots until the reader is left with a delightful heartfelt romance not lacking in heat.

The overarching theme is that Danika is a fairy who has only a month to get each of her charges – her five bad boys – properly mated or they’ll die. She genuinely cares about each of these rogues who range from morosely unhappy to borderline insane due to the absence of the proper woman in their lives. She reveals that each man’s perfect match resides outside their world – the “Kingdom” – and that’s why they’ve not met her yet. But Danika has her mission.

Because the Mad Hatter is the most damaged and therefore the most in need of the healing power of his true mate, Danika picks him to go first, but the path of love is hardly easy. In Her Mad Hatter, Danika heads to the new cupcake parlor owned by Alice Lu, descendent of the same Alice who inspired Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland book. Alice is the spitting image of her great-grandmother, a fact that Danika realizes will hurt her more than help her as she whisks her away to Kingdom to meet Hatter.

You see, young Alice discovers that her great-grandmother was actually a colossal bitch who was taken to Kingdom – the Wonderland region – and duped Hatter into thinking that she loved him when in actuality she wanted the power he could offer her as his mate. But Wonderland never accepted her as it saw her true nature and she returned to earth. Alice is gobsmacked at the revelation – she was the perennial geeky goth kid, carrying around her Alice in Wonderland book since she had a major crush on the Mad Hatter, to the point where she believed that he came to her when she was dying in the hospital of brain cancer.

Alice is elated to finally meet the man literally of her dreams but quickly comprehends the hate in his eyes when Danika explains her great-grandmother’s deception. Hatter is unbearably sexy and clearly wants her, but blows hot and cold as he fails to believe that she is falling in love with him and with Wonderland. Alice wants his love as much as she wants to help his sanity but can’t fully leave her life behind, a decision that might come at too high a cost.

This book was sometimes a little on the psychedelic side but it made sense considering Hatter’s mental state. The characterization was excellent and I loved how fleshed out all the supporting characters were (a vital piece in a series). The Alice allusions were wonderful but the twist on so many of the established plot points made it an intellectual delight to read. Gobs of sexual tension existed between the characters and the consummation scene was pretty smokin’ hot so Marie Hall has good sexy writing chops to fall back on (a must for any romance book I read)! Finishing it put not only a smile on my face but made me want another one.

Gerard’s Beauty (#2 Kingdom series – Gerard and Betty) by Marie Hall (Marie Hall Publishing, July 2012)

Gerard’s Beauty immediately found it’s way into my Kindle. For those of us who have always listed Belle from Beauty and the Beast as our favorite princess, this novella will make you think twice about your admiration. Gerard, whose legacy has been twisted into the pompous, good looking jock of the movie, is most definitely a gorgeous hunk of man and quite the man-whore. Danika has her fairy godmother hands full pulling him out of one seduction scrape after another, but he’s actually incredibly bitter.

He truly fell in love with Belle, who was a beautiful but calculating intellectual. She ditched Gerard, after mocking his illiteracy, for the Beast because of the wealth he could offer. Right now, Gerard is in big, big trouble because Prince Charming is claiming Gerard seduced his daughter by Cinderella. It was more like a hook-up, and one Gerard brought to a screeching halt when her wig tumbled off and he realized that it was a princess he was dealing with. That the chief bitch fairy Galeta still harbors a grudge from Gerard blowing off her sexual advances makes this more complicated.

Danika pleads his case, claiming that she knows that he is about to meet his true mate and won’t be the Kingdom’s playboy any longer. She transports him to the library where Betty Hart, a bespectled, superhero role-playing librarian has already fallen victim to the good-looking, “love ‘em and leave ‘em” type before and she’s having none of it. The crazy frenchman in the rain outside the library gets zero sympathy since he’s clearly a sexist pig with one thing on his mind, but he also seems homeless, so against her better judgement she brings him back to her place.

When a couple of fairies appear in her living room, spouting about how Gerard is in BIG trouble and dangling some necklace Betty must wear, she realizes that she’s not in Kansas anymore. Danika’s lobbying gets him a questionable reprieve – he has thirty days to make this mystery woman fall in love with him…and it’s thirty days where he is “unmanned,” completely unable to get an erection. That Betty has total control of him from that time on just makes him even more incensed.

For Gerard (any Frenchman?) this is intolerable since the core of his identity is tied to his sexuality. Until he looks past the situation and realizes that Betty is not using her power over him. She’s a fun, smart, beautiful woman, but not being able to use sex to keep his distance from her means that they are spending actual time together. He sees what a great aunt she is to her Down Syndrome-affected nephew and also sees how all the other geeks (none so hot in their costumes) cluster around her at her role-playing conventions. Most importantly, when she finds out he can’t read, she doesn’t judge him at all, just goes about teaching him after he reluctantly expresses an interest in learning.

Gerard is so physical and initially shallow that you despair for him until you see how his irritation with Betty blooms into something much more. Betty is a fantastic, quirky character who sees Gerard for who he really is and loves him expecting nothing in return. He’s sexy as hell and we are not deprived of the moment when Gerard gets his mojo back. Oo, la, la!

Red and Her Wolf (#3 Kingdom series – Ewan and Violet) by Marie Hall (Marie Hall Publishing, September 2012)

The wolf has always been my favorite character (so many sexual overtones even in the sanitized version of this tale) so when it becomes clear in the story arc that the Wolf is angry and languishing because he already found his mate in little Red Riding Hood, but she’s disappeared, you’ve got to wonder about what’s really going on.

In Red and Her Wolf we find out just how dark this story can be. The Black Wolf transforms into Ewan, a phenomenally hot and usually naked Scotsman (yes, because being a wolf isn’t sexy enough, you have to be a Scottish wolf). Once working for the dark fairy desperate for power, he was sent with another wolf to kill the Heartsong, the embodiment of all the fairies’ evil, who had been hidden in the woods with one trusted fairy designated as her keeper.

One look at the stunning, blond Violet huddled in her red cape and hood – who has no idea of her origins or her fate – and Ewan realizes that she’s he’s mate. He slays the fairy she knows as her grandmother as well as the other assassin wolf since both were bent on seeing Violet dead. Other fairies arrive on the scene, one of them being Danika with her best friend Miriam, and they realize that the girl needs to be protected, despite the danger she poses. Ewan violently objects to the idea of them taking his mate from him when he has just found her, but they overpower him with magic and Miriam escapes to earth with the girl, whose memories are suspended.

Five hundred years later, and Violet knows that she and her Aunt Miriam are not mortal. They don’t age and recently Violet has noticed that she has strange powers and an attraction to dark feelings. Back in the Kingdom, it’s come to Danika’s attention that Violet’s whereabouts have been leaked to the dark forces who would use her power and she has to confess to Ewan that she has lied to him all these centuries, sending him on false errands to try and find the girl he calls Red. Enraged, he sets out to Alaska, finding Red suspended in death and the fairy Miriam waiting for him. She tells him he must take her back to the Kingdom to be revived and gives him a map with spy contacts to help smuggle Violet to the lair of the dark fairy. Only Violet has the power to destroy her and on the way she will begin to understand her powers with Ewan’s help.

What Ewan doesn’t bargain for is the notion that his Red has spent 500 years misunderstanding him. She’s gotten a sanitized version of what happened and even now, when her memories are beginning to leak back into her mind, she clings to her hatred of the wolf who slew her grandmother. But Ewan’s persistence and unfailing care of her open her heart to feelings she doesn’t want to have for this man, even though everything points to him being her perfect match and one who can save her from the darkness within her.

Ewan is probably my favorite hero of all the “bad five” Danika helps. His unfailing loyalty (500 years of looking for his mate!), his kindness, but most of all his wolfy sexiness and killer mentality makes him a fairy tale ideal. Using Red as a vehicle for understanding the fairy politics and power struggle was also an excellent device and one that sets the stage for other stories.

Jinni’s Wish (#4 Kingdom Series – Jinni and Paz) by Marie Hall (Marie Hall Publishing, November 2012)

I really wondered about Jinni’s story. I mean, how much of a romance can you have when you don’t have a corporeal form? Jinni is at a point in his long life where he feels nothing but apathy. Born among the stars, he accepted his assignment as fierce guardian to a king but fell in love and was horribly betrayed by a woman. This wound has festered for a millennia resulting in Jinni’s abandonment of his body. He now just exists as an ephemeral floating body and waits for the moment where he can dissipate and fade into nothing.

In Jinni’s Wish, his fairy godmother Danika is beside herself, praying its not too late. She knows that he’s given up, content to simply exist in his cave and dwell on past mistakes, but his mate needs him. Really needs him.

Paz is a Chicago artist on the rise who wistfully wants what her brother Richard and his partner Todd have. They convince her to go a sketchy carnival because a friend has said the fortuneteller is amazing and Paz needs a reading. She’s shocked and disbelieving when the preternaturally beautiful woman behind the table tells her to purchase a ticket to Anchorage tomorrow otherwise she’ll never meet her soul mate.

Urged on by something bigger than she’s ever felt before, Paz does, and finds herself seated next to hot guy who seems kind of wooden, but she’s more nervous about flying. A justified feeling considering disaster ensues. Yet this diaster reveals Jinni to her and there is immediate recognition on both their sides. As Jinni reveals his tarnished history to his lovely artist, he finds himself making new memories and wishing he wasn’t too far gone, but his time is almost at an end.

This is easily the most spiritual and beautiful of all the love stories in the series. Jinni is a hot, sexy beast, but one from an era and culture filled with courtly love and it shows in his respectful handling of Paz. Because his magic is almost gone, he can only create a couple physical encounters for both of them and even they are of a lighter sensuality than the other books. Hall has written a heart-warming story which is creative in both its understanding of djinn (actually close to the original Arabic folklore) and of its resolution of a happily ever after for two people without bodies when they fall in love.

Hook’s Pan (#5 Kingdom Series – James and Trishelle) by Marie Hall (Marie Hall Publishing, April 2013)

After a long hiatus from the series, Hall finally came out with the fifth book in the series, Hook’s Pan last month. We’ve only seen a couple glimpses of Captain James Hook, but it’s enough to know that this tale is going to be turned on its head and it is.

James Hook has already known true love. Talia, his beautiful mermaid, stole his heart but the day before their wedding the incorrigible Peter Pan, running amok as usual, killed her. It was probably by accident, but still, his loss felt bottomless.

He’s drowned himself in drinking, wenching, and looting – not necessarily in that order – but nothing seems to help. Hook is more annoyed than anything else when his self-appointed fairy godmother informs him that she’s going to deliver his true mate, which he knows is a lie since he’s already found her before she died.

Trishelle works in the same library as Betty, Gerard’s wife, and is more than a little put out that she’s not spending meaningful time with her newlywed friend anymore. She gets that Betty would want to spend time with Gerard, but to just disappear for months at a time? What’s up with that?

After a rough couple of days remembering her sister’s death, Trish is donning her usual mask and getting ready to perform the role of Peter Pan at the local playhouse – she already plays the role of a happy person every day so what’s one more role? Before her rehearsal Betty and Gerard ask her to go to lunch, springing on her some crazy bull about “the Kingdom” where fairy tales and characters from stories actually exist. Hurt at their mocking, Trish huffs off to get her performance, only to be “rescued” from a fire by Betty and Gerard and…a demon bug.

It’s not actually a demon bug, but some kind of fairy claiming Trish is Hook’s true mate reincarnated. Dropped literally at Hook’s feet onboard his ship, she’s irritated to say the least. Yes, this guy with his sexy British accent and hard man flesh would be great for a tumble, but she’s not going to pretend to be something or someone she’s not and Trish doesn’t believe in love.

Hook can’t help but admire the curvaceous blonde in front of him despite her revolting Pan costume, although he doesn’t believe for a moment she’s his Talia. Her sass and feistiness has him grinning from ear to ear, much to the astonishment of his men. The two of them can agree on some key points, however. Peter Pan is a sociopath enabled by Tinkerbell, Trish and Hook have serious chemistry and there is no way they will fall in love with each other.

James is the classic wounded hero and the richly painted world of the ocean (above and below the water line) is amazingly done by Hall. Trish is pretty damaged herself, and while I’m pretty leery of the reincarnation trope, this was well-handled with everyone acknowledging Trish’s unique personality. Tinkerbell is the psycho helicopter Mom everyone has met, not realizing how her crappy mothering is actually creating the time bomb that is Peter Pan. The resolution is wonderful, although I did wonder why nothing came of her gift of the little sea horse.

The series also has the bonus of being infinitely affordable. I read Her Mad Hatter because it was free on Amazon, but none of the other books broke the bank at a mere $2.99 each (Hook’s Pan is a little more expensive, but still under $4.00), reasonable for a hefty novella  slightly smaller than a Harlequin novel. Hall even has a bundled deal, charging only $2.99 for the first three books, and now that the final book is out with Hook’s Pan, I’m thinking she’ll do another bundle. According to Marie Hall’s website, she’s planning on releasing a short about the fairy Danika (something naughty with the huntsman, perhaps?) and her afterword in Hook’s Pan clearly indicates that, while she’s doing other projects, she feels that there are lots of other bad boys in the Kingdom waiting to meet the woman who will redeem them.

Getting to read those stories at the hands of good writer like Marie Hall is a delight I’m looking forward to, particularly if there are little glimpses of my favorite couples while I’m there. Many thanks to Hall for taking what are often shopworn retellings and making them into something fresh, sexy and undeniably romantic.

Diane Alberts Take a Chance Series Gets Even Better with Love Me

30 May

Try Me (Take a Chance #1 – Jeremy and Erica) by Diane Alberts (Entangled, May 2012)

One great book is a delight but two in a row constitutes an author I can trust. Diane AlbertsTake a Chance series delighted me with her first novel, Try Me, (which I devoured last summer) but she’s proven herself an author to be reckoned with after this month’s release of the second in that series, Love Me.

In glancing at the cover, it’s not hard to see what drew me! Entangled Publishing could give the fuddy-duddy Big Six publishers lessons in how to produce contemporary romance covers that have depth and appeal – and look like they are from this century. This one conveys a great deal about the hero, with not only his military background clearly indicated by the dog tags and bullets, but the tattoos indicating a tough background (do you love the title at the top and the author name at the waist? It’s genius.) and the heart on his pec helping us realize that there’s a chance for a happily ever after. The bare chest and sculpted abs also successfully transmit that this is a book with a high sensuality rating, or in common parlance, Mmmmrrrooowwwww.

Jeremy has had a pretty crappy R&R in his hometown of Las Vegas. He hadn’t even enjoyed his first sip of beer before some asshole sailor took offense that Jeremy was a Marine and a colossal fistfight ensued. He’s not sure how, but he’s now wandering the Mars landscape of a desert, beaten and dehydrated. When a lone car screeches to a halt, knocking him on his butt, he’s wondering if his life can get any worse, and it does. The professionally dressed beauty asking him if he’s okay is none other than Erica, who he’s been in love with since he first saw her in the first grade.

He hasn’t seen her for seven years, not since the day her brother Tommy – who happened to be Jeremy’s best friend – accused him of sleeping with his wife. Jeremy might actually have been the only man Nicole didn’t sleep with, but the colossal hurt of his best friend turning on him sent him straight to the bottle. Drunk and wounded by the accusation, he turned up on Erica’s doorstep to drunkenly profess his long-standing love for her. Rather than answer she just ran away and Jeremy in turn ran into the arms of the Marines, having lost the two people who meant everything to him.

Erica cannot believe it’s Jeremy she just rescued – gorgeous, kind Jeremy who she’s been in love with forever. She knows that her brother should have realized Jeremy would never have slept with his bitch of a wife and she also knows that she should have had the backbone to put up a protest, particularly after Jeremy told her he loved her. Now that Jeremy is here, he’s just as tempting as ever but Erica knows she can’t have him. She’s harboring a secret that puts him off limits to her, although her body hasn’t gotten the memo.

Because they both know one another already, this romance has serious backbone and progresses rapidly as Jeremy and Erica both succumb to the heat that has always been between them. There is no way to not love the persistent, loyal Jeremy who can’t seem to stop himself from hoping where Erica is concerned. The dialogue is outstanding, conveying a playfulness between the couple that speaks to their longstanding relationship as friends, and while there isn’t a lot of sex since they are both working through their issues and emotions, sexual tension abounds and the sex scene at the end is worth waiting for, as is the wonderful epilogue chapter.

Love Me (Take a Chance #2 – Tommy and Brianna) by Diane Alberts (Entangled, May 13, 2013)

We also get a good glimpse of the happy, settled couple in the series sequel, the recently released Love Me. That’s a good thing, because Love Me doesn’t lack emotional turmoil. Erica’s brother Thomas, again in Vegas for work, feels tremendous pressure to land the casino near the airport to cinch his position in his marketing company. He’s blown away when the blond 50s pin-up businesswoman he runs into turns out to be the contact he’s there to woo, and he wants a lot more than Brianna’s business. They are both aware they are crossing a professional line, but after against the wall sex in his hotel room and then over the desk in her office, it’s a moot point.

Yet Thomas has colossal baggage from the cheating, manipulative wife he divorced eight years ago, baggage which leads him to lash out with horrible accusations at Brianna. She’s also desperate to push him away since her feelings for him are overwhelming, yet his two week assignment hardly offers a chance for something more permanent, even if he did want to take on a widow with three children.

Thomas has an unattractive shell that he has donned for years to work which I initially found very off-putting. Fortunately, Alberts’ excellent writing from his POV reveals not only his conflict with realizing he wants more than a fling from Brianna, but also his tremendous determination in the face of her running hot and cold. Brianna was harder to care for initially. It’s easy to empathize with her feelings of guilt and protectiveness toward her children, but her vacillation in the face of Thomas’ pursuit was frustrating, even while you understood her perspective. The outstanding writing of the children in this story gave the plot enormous depth, and one of Alberts’ strength as a writer is her unwillingness to gloss over real issues a burgeoning couple would face. An amazing resolution and tear-jerking epilogue cinches this novella’s keeper status in my Kindle.

Interestingly, Love Me is over twice as along as its predecessor, clocking in at an estimated 134 pages, versus 65 pages for Try Me. Yet both stories pack an emotional punch so strong that you’d swear after finishing them that you just put down a 250 page stand alone novel. There aren’t any details up yet for the third book in the Take a Chance series, but it does have a title, Play Me, and an expected publication date in 2013, so fingers crossed we get to see it soon. In the meantime, I’m going to be exploring Diane Alberts’ other books, since this is a writer who has certainly proved her worth when it comes to my allotted book dollars.

Fire & Frost Anthology Will Melt Your Ice at the Start of Summer

29 May

Fire & Frost by Meljean Brook, Carolyn Crane and Jessica Sims (Iron Seas #3.4) (Meljean Brook, May 25, 2013)

I have been waiting for this Iron Seas novella forever! Okay, maybe not forever, but the original publication date was supposed to happen in April, so it’s been two months of me chomping at the bit wondering why the latest installment of the Iron Seas series was not residing happily in my kindle.

Knowing how busy Meljean Brook is pumping out books, I’m hardly going to criticize, particularly since she priced this beauty at only $.99 for the first couple of weeks! That would be a terrific price for just her novella, but I enjoyed the other two stories in this anthology, and they were all of very decent length (definitely novellas and not short stories).

With the excellent title of Fire & Frost, these authors have each crafted a tale in which one character seems a bit cooler and one is running damn hot. Whether you plan on chilling out in the air conditioning this summer or soaking up the sun, this anthology has something to help you get into the vacation spirit!

“Speed Mating” by Jessica Sims

I’d never read anything by Jessica Sims before, but I enjoyed this novella, set in the same world as her Midnight Liaisons series (whose books I have now ordered!). Sims specializes in shifter romances and since I like a certain tone to my shifters (see my effusive posts regarding Jennifer Ashley’s Shifters Unbound series and you’ll get the drift), I was pleased to find myself enjoying her characters and their dilemma.

Beauty Dates the Beast (Midnight Liaisons #1) by Jessica Sims (Pocket Books, October 2011)

Estella is a liger – half lion, half tiger – trying to stay off the radar in Vic’s tiger clan. Most shifters are not accepting of hybrids, so she considers the wary glances and automatic distance par for the course. Who would be interested in a 6′ 2″ liger when hybrids are known to be sterile? Not a shifter male for sure.

But now the tables have turned because Estrella realizes she’s going into heat, a sign that she is in fact fertile. Surprise! With her body knocking loudly on her door, she needs help choosing someone to be the father of her baby. Someone responsible, hopefully sexy, someone strong, someone a lot like…her alpha?

Muscled, tattooed, body shop owner Vic is all those things and the head of their clan. He accepted her when no one was inclined to and she’s forever grateful, but Vic is reserved and continually frowning, making her confession of her dilemma all the more embarrassing. He immediately seizes on the crux of the problem and says that she and her future baby have nothing to worry about – they will both always have a place in the clan. Estrella is grateful and clearly her desire to rub up against Vic is just the heat talking, right?

She tries a shifter dating service, interviewing tigers from other clans, and trying to stave off the problem herself with open windows and cold baths, but nothing works. Throughout it all, her alpha is “involved” and his presence must be the reason that everyone looks like chopped liver in comparison to him. But until she tries a hare-brained scheme dreamt up by a friend, Estrella won’t be able to tell if Vic would really be willing to “help” her.

My sole criticism of this novella would be that we only ever experience the heroine’s POV and while it perfectly defines the conflict, I do prefer to hear what’s going through the sexy hero’s mind as well, particularly when the heroine has reason to have low self-esteem regarding her body and the acceptance of others. I’m looking forward to trying Sims’ other novels after reading this example.

“Conjuring Max” by Carolyn Crane

It’s the 1980s and Veronica is a witch interested in all those newfangled personal computers. Her unorthodox approach to witchcraft using bits and bytes is brilliant, but she’s gotten the attention of more than a few dangerous characters, witch and human, with her craft. Which is why she keeps conjuring dead detective Max out of a photograph in order to protect her from the bad guys.

Max may not be able to stand Veronica’s fixation with Don Johnson in Miami Vice (that guy is a horrible cop, after all) but he’s more than happy to keep protecting Veronica and killing bad guys. He’s been killed a few more times himself, but always brings him back as they are both determined to bring down the mob lowlife targeting her because she used her magic to put his son behind bars.

The problem is that Veronica, with her isolated life and mangled leg, doesn’t like all the feelings she has for Max, feelings that make her feel vulnerable and wishing she wasn’t covered with scars or walked with a limp. Max sees Veronica for the powerful, smart woman she is and forces her to confront her fears and live life to the fullest, something that’s easy to model when he’s only on it for seven days at a time. When the forces against them threaten not just their lives and new feelings for each other, but Max’s ability to keep coming back to life, this couple must face head on the heartache that comes from love.

This was a highly unusual novella that threw me through a loop. The 1980s setting was startling and it took me a while to warm up to Veronica. Crane skillfully writes the situation, peeling back one layer after another so you gradually understand the situation and the characters, a comprehension which leads you to appreciate and care for them.

“Wrecked” by Meljean Brook

Wild & Steamy by Meljean Brook, Jill Myles and Carolyn Crane (Amazon Digital Services, August 2011) – Since Jill Myles is another name for Jessica Sims, it’s nice to see that these three authors have teamed up for a successful anthology before!

Here is the story I purchased the anthology for! Another installment in Brook’s brilliant Iron Seas series, in this novella we see lovely Elizabeth on the run from her powerful father. Continually tracked by hunters – indentured servants tied to him via shackle bracelets which will kill them if they do not return to him periodically for resetting – Elizabeth is lonely but thankful for her freedom as she moves from place to place assuming different identities wherever she goes.

A few years ago she was actually caught by one of them, the handsome Caius. She had been enamored of Caius since he arrived at her father’s menagerie at the age of fifteen, just a few years older than her, but his anger and disgust at what he viewed as her privileged lifestyle could not have pushed them farther apart. After her father’s heart-stopping plan for her was revealed, Elizabeth fled in horror. When Caius captured her and attempted to bring her home, she revealed to him why she was running. He didn’t believe her and instead told her about himself – his childhood, how he missed his mother and sister, how he had been in love years ago with a girl – and explained that her father agreed to give him his freedom if Caius returned his only daughter. Realizing she couldn’t ask this man to surrender his freedom for hers, Elizabeth chooses to risk death by leaping from the train over an abyss in the hope that she can escape and live.

It’s now a few years later and Caius waits in shadows watching Elizabeth flee her father’s hunters and hounds as she finds an airship which will get them off her scent. He is elated she’s alive but knows she doesn’t realize that he has been tracking her since her escape – not to recapture her for her father, but because her leap to freedom shattered him, releasing the knowledge that his anger over all the years was due to the fact that he didn’t want her to be as beautiful and kind as she appeared. Yet tracking her and hearing how she was the same sweet lonely girl everywhere she went confirmed he has been a fool. Making an incredible personal sacrifice has separated him from her father and his mission is now to protect her from the man’s clutches.

Naturally Caius’ appearance on the airship throws Elizabeth into a panic – he’s even more handsome than ever before – but she knows she can’t trust him after he was willing to give her back to her father even after she told him the insane man’s plan for her. Yet Caius’ confession of his longstanding love for her and his protective behavior as they come under attack prove he might be telling the truth.

Enthralled (Iron Seas #3.5) by Meljean Brook (Berkley, July 2, 2013)

Meljean Brook’s ability to write characters who are both vulnerable and damaged while having enormous strength never ceases to amaze me. The Iron Seas world is once again drawn phenomenally well and the reader needs no knowledge of previous books in the series to enjoy this in depth steampunk work. Fans of the series, however, will love seeing the little bits and pieces they already know, including their favorite mercenary airship toward the end of the novella. I would recommend that if longstanding admirers of the series haven’t read Tethered, the recent novella that is a follow-up to Heart of Steel, you might want to do so in order to understand why a female quartermaster stands on the deck of Yasmeen’s ship.

Now I just have to wait a month until the next novella in the series – to be published in the Enthralled anthology – comes out under the Berkley Trade label on July 2nd. Considering Meljean’s ability to write one amazing story after another in this world, I have zero doubt it will live up to my high expectations of her writing.

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