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Reese Monroe Brings Angsty Paranormal With Her Latest, Marked By Hades

15 Apr

Marked by Hades (Bound by Hades #2 – Justin and Yvonne) by Reese Monroe (Entangled Embrace, April 14, 2014)

When it comes to paranormal, the eternal battle between angels and demons is one of the more compelling story arc and talented writer Reese Monroe (aka Lynn Rush) clearly feels the same way.

Her Bound By Hades series pits an ancient group of Gatekeepers and their Companions against demons who have escaped to earth to terrorize humans. Awaiting the time that “the Great One” decides to award them a mate, they toil in a rather lonely job, warriors to the core with nothing but their brothers and sisters in arms for companionship.

Marked By Hades is the second book of the series and the good news is that you can certainly read it out of order as Monroe does an excellent job catching the reader up without making them suffer through an unwieldy info dump. That said, much of the secondary characters’ behavior is predicated on a series of events from the previous book, so it might be worth taking advantage of this books’ initial $.99 offering and get both it and the previous volume, Forged By Fate, Theo and Sadie’s story.

In Marked By Hades, the heroine awakes naked on a park bench in the cold of an Arizona November, a kind man hovering over her as he wraps a blanket around her shoulders and gets her to his car. Sensing his goodness even as she remembers nothing about herself or her past except for her name – Yvonne – she goes to touch him in gratitude and is horrified to see him turn to dust in the driver’s seat. Learning to shield herself in leather and work menial day jobs that overlook pesky paperwork, Yvonne finds herself able to tell whether people are good or evil, with a strong fascination for the good ones. Yet she condemns herself to loneliness for fear of hurting the innocent while she attempts to figure out who and what she is.

Justin Bradford has seen his brother, the Gatekeeper and leader of their group, find his fated mate and doesn’t want to go through the emotional turmoil when he could just hook up with women like he’s been doing for nearly a thousand years. When he and his brother are working in Arizona, Justin is fascinated by a glimpse of a raven haired, green eyed beauty clad in leather. Feeling the throat mark indicating his destined mate, he fights it as as he searches for the woman he’s seen kill in a strange way. When he finally catches up with her (after noting with horror his lack of attraction to women he would have been happy to bed), he’s somewhat startled and disappointed that her upper arm does not wear the tattoo he expected.

Forged by Fate (Bound By Hades #1 – Theo and Sadie’s story) by Reese Monroe (Entangled Embrace, December 9, 2013)

His disappointment fades quickly after bringing her with him to his enclave – after all, she’s clearly paranormal, doesn’t smell of demon, and needs his help. Yet the greeting she receives from his sister-in-law – who claims Yvonne was the mate of demon who kept her trapped – has him rejecting her even when he’s willing to protect her and a good luck at her shoulder after her shower indicates she was covering up the sudden tattoo whose presence she couldn’t explain.

It’s the height of irony for a demon killer to be mated to a demon, even a beautiful, giving one who seems to be human. That there are multiple antagonists and a hell of a story arc accompanying Yvonne and Justin’s transformation adds to the reward of the two of them finally making it through hell (in this case, literally).

This book reminded me of A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford – do people remember her books? Her characters have near insurmountable obstacles placed in their path, to the point where you are emotionally exhausted vicariously living through their experience. Because so many readers adore this type of book, these are great reads for a chunk of romance enthusiasts, and fans of the “will they make it?” roller coaster should hop on a Reese Monroe book for a ride.

Please be warned that if you are someone for whom sexual violence is an issue, you may want to proceed with caution as Yvonne’s eventual capture and return to her demon state (complete with another memory wipe of her time with Justin) involves her being at the mercy of a demon who hurts her. Much of the violence is behind the closed door (in romance parlance) but when he memories resurface they are incredibly painful.

My very slight objection to this book is its characterization under the popular umbrella of “New Adult.” While undoubtedly the series is properly assigned that moniker – the previous book’s heroine fell in the early 20s age range and it appears likely that the next heroine will be her best friend also in that age group – I don’t think this particular volume fits the bill. The hero’s near millennium on earth and his mate’s leaving her second century behind doesn’t exactly have them hitting the new adult/coming of age target range. But hey, it’s paranormal, so maybe all bets are off. :-)

Reese Monroe is a new author who has created a rather fascinating world filled with feisty heroines and compelling heroes, so if angels and demons who have to go through a literal and figurative hell to find happiness makes your heart flutter, you would do very well to check her out.

Happy reading!

Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennet Channels the 20s While Delivering Outstanding Romance (With a Dash of Paranormal)

29 Jan

Bitter Spirits (Roaring Twenties #1 – Winter and Aida) by Jenn Bennett (Berkley, January 7, 2014)

Holy WOW. I felt like I had been hit by the awesome reading truck after finishing Jenn Bennett‘s new addition to historical/paranormal romance. Bitter Spirits is probably one of the best historical romances I’ve read in the last couple of years and it has taken me a while to determine if this is due to her writing chops (which are prodigious), the unbelievable detail of a period often neglected in historicals, or because of her kick butt characterization.

The answer is d) all of the above.

It’s prohibition in San Francisco and Aida Palmer has enjoyed her time at the upscale Gris-Gris speakeasy where her medium act is a huge hit. This is assuredly because it’s totally real – Aida can summon, and dispel, the dead.

Since her employer is a voodoo practioner, Aida is surprised when she is summoned to help an important person get rid of a haunting, and even more shocked to discover that the person in question is the handsome, premier bootlegger of San Francisco, Winter Magnusson. This huge man oozing masculinity has been hexed and he needs help ASAP before he succumbs to both the poison and the ghost he can’t shake. Aida helps with the ghost and her boss with the poisoning, but not before it comes clear that Winter has made an enemy of someone in Chinatown.

Winter is utterly fascinated with the diminutive, freckled medium with the gorgeous figure and rich dark hair. She’s also the real deal, and he is intrigued that she has no reaction to the scar he retains from the car accident that killed his wife and parents. She’s also refreshingly honest, so when the opportunity presents itself to hire her to help him with a haunting in his mansion as well as his ongoing mystery enemy he does it. Proximity only makes their intense attraction more formidable, but obstacles – both paranormal and all too in the flesh – exist to keep these two apart despite the fact they are falling fast and hard for each other.

It's amazing to think of a time San Francisco's iconic landmarks were new. (Public Domain image via Pixabay)

It’s amazing to think of a time San Francisco’s iconic landmarks were new. (Public Domain image via Pixabay)

Before I get into the time period, let’s take a moment to discuss how utterly blown away I was by Bennett’s writing. A lot of historical romance writers are like Laurence Olivier, the famous film and stage actor who was known for his brilliance but who always declared he wanted the audience to see the effort it took to bring his characters to life. I’ve read excellent authors who seem to want you to appreciate all the work they put into their accurate underclothes research or the mind-numbing social constructs (which may or may not be necessary to understand their plot).

With Bennett, her plot moves effortlessly along, with an emotional intensity that makes me desperate to turn the page. The tone is alternately dark and sinister but with increasing flashes of hope for our couple, even as their time together draws to a close and things get more desperate. Bennett is, hands down, one of the best writers of sexual tension – a tension born of a realistic sexual attraction between two people who are falling in lust and in love at a real pace, albeit perhaps one propelled a little faster by the urgent circumstances of attempting to discover Winter’s enemy. The scene in the taxi? Holy cow!!

Jenn Bennett brings both Prohibition San Francisco and this era to life (take a look at her great RT Times article on the history of the speakeasy during this time), so much so that it’s jarring to return to modern life. Her attention to the very last detail – the clothing, the birth control, the tenuous racial coexistence between groups – demonstrates a familiarity that never, ever ventures into the world of the info dump. Bennett effortlessly transmits the tone, feeling and data we need to understand a world that is both familiar and yet totally foreign to us, and kudos to her for managing to do what so few historical writers can manage, even when we are loving their characters.

Grim Shadows (Roaring Twenties #2 – Lowe and Hadley) by Jenn Bennett (Berkley, June 3, 2014)

And you WILL love her characters, and there are so many to love!! Not only do we have Winter who is the best hunk of tortured hero I’ve seen in a while, but Aida is a modern spitfire who has carved a place in the world for herself that almost defies explanation. The secondary characters – Winter’s biracial sidekick who clearly is a possible love interest for Winter’s younger, impetuous sister, the family servants in the mansion, Aida’s landlady in Chinatown – are so well-drawn that you find yourself spinning possible backstories about them in your head. I’m sure I’ll see their reappearance in the next book of the series, starring Winter’s world-traveling archeologist brother, Lowe, and the curator who gets herself involved with an Egyptian artifact harboring some powerful effects. Their book, Grim Shadows, is due out on June 3rd, so happy birthday to me!

I had literally reached a point where I couldn’t bear one more “meh” Regency romance, but really wanted a historical that would satisfy me. What I got in Jenn Bennett’s Bitter Spirits was a book that haunted me for weeks afterward, reaffirming my belief in this subgenre of romance and rejoicing in the fact that such a talented author exists on this planet. For anyone who loves historical romance and this time period, run out this second and go buy this book.

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: Bayou Noel by Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright Offers An Addictive Holiday Snippet of a Great Series

23 Dec

Bayou Noel (Bayou Heat #8.5 - Garrick & Molly) by Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright (Amazon Digital Services, December 11, 2013)

In my job as a librarian during the day, I often recommend great YA novels to my teenagers with the laughing caveat that certain books should come with warning stickers like “Warning! You will not do any homework while this book is on your end table.”

Please note the adult warning for Bayou Noel. “This delicious holiday novella is a gateway drug to the addictive Bayou Heat series.” Come on. Everyone is doing it (in these books!).

Granted, it is the holiday, which means that hopefully the vast majority of romance readers have more time off for reading. Add to that this novella is a mere 60 pages and you can devour it between ham bastings. The best part is that, like me, you can read it with zero knowledge of the series and no difficulty understanding anything. (And then, like me, run out and buy the first six books of the series which you read while your husband watches three football games in a row.) Since Bayou Noel is currently free on Amazon - and a great deal that I featured in my Sunday Reflection post yesterday) – you can read it and see if you like the writing of Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright. I certainly did!

Set in the world of the Pantera, mythical puma shifters living in an enchanted world in the Louisiana bayou where humans cannot enter, this book is a prequel (and should actually be labeled book #0.5) since it happens prior to Raphael finding his mate in the magical human Ashe in book one of the Bayou Heat series. The Pantera work hard to insure the safety of their people, particularly since their numbers are dwindling with no new babies in the last 50 years. They may be a long-lived species but mated pairs want cubs. With the Nurturers handling the medical and personal care, the Suits handling diplomacy and business out in the human world, and Hunters insuring the safety of their people, each person is sure that their efforts help their friends and family.

Raphael / Parish (Bayou Heat 1 & 2 – Raphael and Ashe, Parish and Julia) by Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright (Amazon Digital Services, January 3, 2013)

Garrick knows that his work on behalf of the Pantera is worthwhile. Coming from a long line of diplomats, he’s seen the sacrifices his family have personally made for their people which is why he’s busy in Paris negotiating the purchase of a safe house. Returning to his apartment, he’s immediately cheered to see a letter from home. Molly, his elderly mother’s caregiver, always sends him missives filled with humor and all the news of the bayou and these notes continue to keep him strong. He’s naturally shocked and borderline ballistic when the letter he thought was a newsy installment instead turns out to be Molly’s resignation. Without even thinking about it, he books a flight to Louisiana.

Molly is sad to be leaving the pithy, elderly Virginia but she knows it’s the right choice to go back to Medical for her career and her personal peace of mind. She’s loved Garrick for five years, the two of them pouring out their hearts and minds to each other in their letters, but every time he’s come home (and that hasn’t been often), he’s treated her like an aloof employer. She needs to give up on her dream of him and even Garrick bursting on the scene and ordering her not to leave is not going to dissuade her. But for all his bluster, can Garrick face what’s between them with courage, or will he simply run away again?

Garrick is the ultimate, oblivious alpha male. Everyone around him can clearly see that he’s desperate to mate Molly if not for the emotional baggage he’s carrying from his childhood, baggage she has no knowledge of since he’s managed not to mention it in his letters. Molly is the spunky heroine we all are bound to admire who won’t let herself be used by Garrick when her heart is on the line – she’s strong enough to demand all or nothing and you’ll be ready to cheer her on even after a short acquaintance.

The Bayou Heat Bundle (the first six books of the series) – a steal for only $4.99 when the books would normally cost you around $7, plus you can get Bayou Noel for free!

In sixty pages, the talented team of Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright managed to have me order the first book of the Bayou Heat series, Raphael/Parish, which then led me to return it so I could instead purchase the very affordable (and better financial deal) of the Bayou Heat Bundle which includes books 1 – 6 and is only $4.99. As each “book” is only just under 100 pages, and they each have a cliffhanger ending which takes you right into the next one of the series focusing on another couple, I’m going to strongly recommend that you’ll want to prepare yourself for needing to know what’s next. These are fun, almost breezy paranormals which nevertheless possess interesting world-building and a compelling story arc of a vivid human threat to the Pantera’s existence. Paranormal romance readers looking for a free holiday read as a present, shouldn’t hesitate to download this story – just be warned. One hit will not be enough!

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: Fangs, Fur and Mistletoe by Selena Blake Offers True Love, Paranormal Style, for the Holiday Season

11 Dec

Fangs, Fur & Mistletoe (Mystic Isle #1 – Coco and Grayson) by Selena Blake (Ecila Media, December 1, 2012)

I had read and enjoyed a few of the novels from Selena Blake‘s Stormy Weather series, (including the holiday novella from that group of books, A Cajun Werewolf Christmas, currently available for free on Amazon) so when I saw that she had a paranormal series set on an island that provides sexy Club Med services for paranormal creatures – and that the series occurs at Christmas – it seemed like an excellent candidate for my December Read-a-Thon.

Granted, there are few references to the holiday season in this wonderful novel, but it’s Selena Blake, so, who cares? Fangs, Fur & Mistletoe (love the title!) is the first book in Blake’s Mystic Isle series, centered on a group of female vampires belonging to the same Parisian coven who decide to head to the playground of the paranormal set for a little holiday relaxation.

It’s easy to see why Blake’s Mystic Isle series is her top-rated collection of books on Goodreads – the first novella-length installment has a tough job ahead of it. Fangs, Fur & Mistletoe not only tells the story of our first couple, vampire Coco and her long-lost enemy, werewolf Grayson, but it must also set up the other four women who will be the future heroines of the other books of the series. Not easy to do in approximately 100 pages!

Yet Blake pulls it off, beautifully. Coco Jeffres is fascinating – one of the few black vampires in existence, she is pureborn of two vampire parents. Although she’s lived for well over a century, she combines a modern sensibility with loyalty and old-world values. A little glum from having broken up with her boyfriend, Dmitiri two months ago (she’s glum because she knew it went on too long), she’s looking forward to Mystic Isle as a place to have hot rebound sex and finally shake off her doldrums.

Tropical beaches (albeit moonlit ones - Coco is a vampire after all) abound in this steamy holiday romance. (Public Domain image via Pixabay)

Tropical beaches (albeit moonlit ones – Coco is a vampire after all) abound in this steamy holiday romance. (Public Domain image via Pixabay)

The last person she expects to run into is the grey-eyed, uber-hot werewolf she encountered on the battlefield one hundred and eleven years ago. Sworn enemies then, she never forgot the overwhelming feeling that swept over her in his presence. Now that their kind no longer fight one another as a rule, who is to say what could happen? The thought that he might be here with some stacked werewolf female is more depressing than sex with her ex, but Coco cannot stop thinking about the man she’s never forgotten.

Grayson West is at Mystic Isle alone, hoping for a little sun and relaxation prior to shipping off on another mercenary mission. While he had definitely planned on a hookup or two as part of his itinerary, seeing the blue-eyed, chocolate skinned vampire who fascinated him on the battlefield over a century ago has taken his breath away. He’s never forgotten her and watching other men circle around her in the Mystic Isle bar makes him want to stamp his possession on her until it’s obvious she belongs to him.

While Coco and Grayson don’t attempt to deny the heat between them and find themselves falling for one another with astonishing rapidity, dangers lurk in the form of Coco’s loyalties. Grayson feels too much to be kept hidden away like a dirty secret, but the histories of Coco’s good friends and coven members come into play on this sensual isle and may change all their destinies.

Where to start? Both Coco and Grayson are outstanding characters – with all the backstory necessary to set up the series, I could not believe how well Blake manages to sketch their characters. Their fighting history is extremely sexy, as is Coco’s loyalty to her coven members, particularly the scarred new vampire Izzy who has good reason to hate werewolves. Each of the women on vacation is equally as interesting and mysterious and I cannot wait to see them find their mate, particularly the cool and celibate Valencia (who will have her story published in 2014).

Blake’s sex scenes are also flaming hot and fulfill the definition of great sex scene writing, with plenty of emotion and character development packing the pages. You will not need to turn up your thermostat with this book on your e-reader!

An outstanding start to an intriguing series, Fangs, Fur & Mistletoe is a great addition to your pile of holiday romance reads. Get it in your to-read queue for some tropical holiday fun and try some other Selena Blake while you are at it. You won’t be disappointed!

Happy reading! :-)

Ilona Andrews’ Clean Sweep Adds Fantastic Characters and an Intriguing New World to the Urban Fantasy Genre

6 Dec

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1) by Ilona Andrews (NYLA, December 2, 2013)

Anyone who adores the Kate Daniels series or the glorious Edge books understands the phenomenon that is Ilona Andrews. A spectacular husband-and-wife author team, Ilona Andrews has a definite corner on the urban fantasy market and their latest publication, Clean Sweep, only adds to their dominance of this market.

In true urban fantasy style, Andrews begins Clean Sweep by deceptively giving us the appearance of normalcy only to strip back the layers to show us how wrong we are in our assumptions. Dina Demille runs the Gertrude Hunt Bed-and-Breakfast, a beautiful Victorian home located in a sweet suburban town in Texas. Unfortunately for her, something has been brutally killing her neighbor’s dogs in the Avalon Subdivision, and while the people around her speculate that its a mountain lion, Dina knows all too well that it’s not.

You see, it’s slowly revealed that Dina is not your normal innkeeper, or rather she’s an Innkeeper with a capital “I”, a vocation held by people with magic who bond with an inn, a place of sanctuary for all types of creatures with the understanding that the location (and the innkeepers) are neutral and can therefore offer safety. Dina’s missing parents were also Innkeepers before their mysterious disappearance and while she’s been channelling her energies into revitalizing her previously abandoned inn, she’s never stopped looking for them.

But this deadly magical creature on the loose puts her neighbors into danger, and at first Dina is highly suspicious that one of them, Sean Evans, a werewolf may be involved, but it’s a supposition she quickly discards. While he tries to deflect Dina’s imperative to figure out what’s going on in his territory (not wanting to admit that he’s a werewolf to a strange human), he quickly realizes that she’s nothing to be trifled with. That he’s never heard of or met an Innkeeper is part of his confusion, but this ex-military man is deadly and very, very territorial. He’s not thrilled about a mysterious creature on the loose and he’s definitely unhappy that Dina feels she has the right to engage it. It seems he’s feeling a territorial about her as well.

The seamless blending of science fiction elements into this urban fantasy is addictive.

The seamless blending of science fiction elements into this urban fantasy is addictive. Image purchase via Shutterstock.

One of the realities Dina helps Sean face is that he’s not some morphed DNA but an engineered race and one of many. As Dina tells Sean, “For various reasons, Earth is a way station for many travelers. We’re the Atlanta of the galaxy: many beings stop here for a layover.” And she transmits this information none too soon. While Dina and Sean have managed to kill a few of the monstrous creatures stalking them, the corpses (or rather what’s inside them) attracts the unwelcome attention of vampires – and they are not the sparkly kind, but the instead the kickass, alien warrior knight kind with a very distinct code of honor.

When one of them is badly hurt, his relative, Arland, a Marshal of House Krahr, comes to protect his uncle and seek vengeance on and information about the assassin wielding these creatures. Sean and Dina realize that they are involved in something much bigger than just a crazed creature in the neighborhood and they put their heads and power together with Arland to flush out the perpetrator while hopefully saving their home. That is, if they can all manage to not get killed first.

Dina is a fascinating heroine, one more than capable of carrying a series on her shoulders (particularly with the help of her morphing broom). I liked how she was well-trained in both magical and physical self-defense but she’s not prone to the mind-altering violence we expect (and love) in Kate Daniels. Dina is truly the embodiment of her inn, a defender of hearth and home who provides sanctuary and protection to others, and she’ll go to any length to insure that safety. That her potential love interests are a footloose werewolf and a vampire who is the head of his clan’s military branch offers a natural source of conflict as it’s hard to imagine a successful long-term partnership with either man (although it’s very, very easy to imagine a successful mating!). The entire story is laced with Andrews’ fantastic sense of humor – those little references or popular culture moments that bring a big grin onto your face.

It’s a profound skill as a writer to reveal layer upon layer of a rich world while also building layers of a plot and make it all look effortless. The immediate story is the one of “who is sending these creatures and why?” – a question which ends up revealing a much more interesting plot with politics and otherworld power struggles. Yet the larger story arc reveals questions that the first book leaves unanswered in order for the series to progress: what happened to Dina’s parents? Where is her brother? What is Sean going to do in the other realm for the werewolves? What are Sean and Arland’s intentions toward Dina?

A shi tzu, the closest we can come to understanding Dina’s wonderful dog, Beast (considering that Beast can morph into something a bit scarier than this little cutie). Image via Wikipedia.

As is typical with Ilona Andrews, the amazing secondary characters blow you away and convince you that this world they’ve crafted actually exists. I love it that the house is truly a character – complete with emotions and reactions just like a human. Any follower of Andrews’ blog knows the troublesome but lovable role their animals provide and Beast, Dina’s dog, will be more than recognizable to any animal lover (her treeing Sean, the alpha werewolf, was one of my favorite scenes!). Even Dina’s permanent guest, Caldenia, clearly has a rich story to tell as she appears to be royalty or some type of powerful entity who may very well eat someone (but don’t try and separate her from her Mello Yello soft drink).

Doris Mantair not only did the cover art but also the interior, stunning full-color illustrations that bring Caldenia, Sean and Arland to life (ladies, please note that Sean and Arland are both available for download in the form of various wallpapers for your electronic devices via Ilona Andrews’ website). This book was an experiment for the writing duo, having been published for free in weekly serial form over several weeks and honed with the continual feedback of readers. That said, the original free format of its release has done nothing to inhibit sales of the official print version, as Andrews’ just announced on December 5th that Clean Sweep had reached the #2 and #3 slots for paranormal and urban fantasy on Amazon in just a few short days. I anticipate that fans (like me!) will be clamoring for scenes from Sean and Arland’s persepectives a la the Curran scenes that are so hugely popular. :-)

Andrews’ website did announce that the sequel to Clean Sweep would come out in early 2014, but its unclear to me at this time whether there is a single sequel or multiple books which would fulfill the series name of “Innkeeper Chronicles” more thoroughly. Either way, this series (like every other series by Ilona Andrews) has leapt into my “pre-order it, dammit!” list rather quickly. Fans of Andrews, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance with more than a big dose of science fiction elements will want to rush out and grab Clean Sweep while they can.

Happy reading!

December Holiday Read-a-thon: Scrooge as a Hot Vampire? Yes, Please! A Vampire’s Christmas Carol by Cynthia Eden

2 Dec

It is always a pleasure when you see a self-published book done beautifully, and leave it to best-selling author Cynthia Eden to have the chops to manage this on her own with aplomb. Her paranormal holiday novella, A Vampire’s Christmas Carol, has everything you could want – compelling characters, excellent writing and editing, and a damn sexy cover – all of which harken back to the time-honored tale by Charles Dickens of a man confronted with the sins of his past and given the chance to create a different future.

Ten years ago, Ben Prescott had everything as he was walking through Central Park. A millionaire, his sterile apartment was filled with a tree and love as he hurried home to his beautiful girlfriend Simone so he could give her the engagement ring in his pocket. But in a flash it was all taken from him as a vampire attacked and changed him into a monster. Considering himself responsible for Simone’s death, Ben has spent the last decade as a vigilante courting death as he stalks and kills murderers, with the darkness almost fully overtaking him.

Until he is confronted by William, a demon he saved in a cemetery long ago. William informs Ben that – against Ben’s vehement wishes – he will witness his most painful memories, that of his turning and of Simone’s death. Two other people will visit him, to show him how his view of the present is skewed and how his future path is bleak indeed, in the hope that he can change in time to not be condemned to eternal damnation. But even this effort means nothing until Ben is shown the one person he wants most in this world – Simone – and he will do anything for the slightest chance to win her back.

WOW. This novella (a bargain at only $.99 for around 80 pages) packs a wallop. There are always holiday romance stories which use Dickens’ famous work, but I’ve never seen the concept executed with such freshness and deep emotion. Eden’s paranormal world is appropriately dark, but through Simone’s sacrifice Ben is finally able to see the potential he has to do the world good, and not just by killing the human detritus he has targeted in the past. I did not see several of the twists coming (which I loved) and my heart ached while praying for an HEA for Ben and Simone, even when it looked like that wasn’t possible. This was a masterful retelling filled with heat and emotion, which should be on every paranormal romance lover’s e-bookshelf this holiday season.

Happy reading!

Nalini Singh’s Archangel’s Legion Flies to New Heights in Her Guild Hunter Series

31 Oct

Archangel’s Legion (Guild Hunter #6) by Nalini Singh (Jove, October 29, 2013)

When I think of my top authors, Nalini Singh, Jeaniene Frost, Jennifer Ashley and Ilona Andrews are unquestionably the top of the pack. They not only have large bodies of work with nary a mediocre book in the bunch, but they produce novels that have tight overarching plots in rich worlds. Their unbelievable quality of writing can be seen in the characters who live and breathe (I’ve had dreams where these heroes and heroines drop in) in strong love stories filled with emotion, humor, and serious badassery.

Considering it’s also Halloween (happy birthday, Mom!), that they each are known for paranormal series is a nice tie-in, and Nalini Singh published her latest book in her Guild Hunter series, Archangel’s Legion, this week, I naturally had to do a review of this novel particularly because I think it might be my favorite so far in the whole series. I have previously reviewed this series since I believe that its male lead, Raphael, has no equal in the alpha male contest (with apologies Kate Daniel’s Beast Lord lover, Curran). There is also no way readers can’t fall for her strong heroine, the skilled vampire hunter-turned-angel, Elena Deveraux. If the number of hits on that post is any indication, readers find this combination one that cannot be beaten!

Fans of Elena and Raphael will find something to love on virtually every page of Archangel’s Legion, as this book not only continues the couple’s profound romance, but further develops the political tensions between the members of the Cadre (the archangels who control the world), who are developing new powers in a frightening point in time that the angels are calling the Cascade – a periodic onslaught of bizarre natural disasters and power flux that the immortal angels and vampires remember as causing the destruction of entire civilizations. There is so much going on in this novel that I found myself dazzled by Singh’s ability to juggle various subplots with consummate skill as well as incorporate the other couples from the various related books and novellas in the series which focus on characters other than Elena and Raphael. Since I visualize this as circles of influence around the main characters, here’s what I came up with:

Click the image to make it bigger. :-) (Copyright Tori MacAllister 2013)

Click the image to make it bigger. :-) (Copyright Tori MacAllister 2013)

So many layers! Yet through it all, Singh has threaded Raphael and Elena’s love for one another through literally every scene, demonstrating how – through all this turmoil – they are one another’s anchor, keeping Raphael from morphing into a colder archangel who would sacrifice millions and forcing Elena to confront her deepest fears regarding her past. While the sex scenes were, as always, steaming hot, I was even more floored by the numerous moments of true tenderness – the way they would “check in” with one another while doing their regular work (a mental link is better than a cell phone) to affirm the other’s safety or just feel that connection amidst the horrifying work both of them must do. It’s never sappy (with these two characters, that’s a given) and they fight with passion stemming from their refusal to allow barriers to come between them. I think this is my favorite book of the series, and that’s saying something.

And yet, Nalini Singh does such a good job with secondary characters I find myself getting horribly greedy. When will we get Illium’s HEA? Now that Aodhan is coming back into the world, what potential love could he have? When, oh when, are we going to see the novella that brings the vampire hunter Ashwini and her Cajun vampire/suitor Janvier finally together? The idyllic park scene with Elena with her honorary niece Zoe picking up angel feathers made me wonder who this little spitfire would end up with in two decades time!

Fans of the series need to run not walk to their nearest book seller or library and pick up a copy of Archangel’s Legion. Readers who love paranormal romance with a kickass world should seriously consider taking up this series, because it has so much to offer intelligent readers who appreciate fantastic writing and world-building. You’ll find yourself flying to new heights with these angels.

Happy reading!!

Gone With the Wolf Delivers Strong Paranormal Romance with a Dash of Millionaire Sexy Times

24 Oct

Gone with the Wolf (Seattle Wolf Pack #1) by Kristin Miller (Entangled Publishing, April 23, 2013)

Here’s a conundrum. I love paranormal romance, but I also have a not-so-hidden fascination for those decidedly decadent millionaire-laden category romances filled with mansions and galas.

Luckily for me, Kristin Miller wrote Gone with the Wolf, the first book in her Seattle Wolf Pack series, which just happens to feature as hero one cold, logical, extremely handsome CEO of a multi-million dollar real estate holdings company, Drake Wilder. Plenty of mansions and galas here to drool over as he falls for the bartender-turned-temp.

Oh, I’m sorry…did I not mention he’s a 300 year old werewolf and she’s his destined mate?

That’s right. Miller has managed to combine two tropes I love – paranormal romances with a destined mate element and those delicious fantasy-imbued millionaire romances – into one novel. The end result is something closer to the category style of romance in tone, but with plenty of paranormal deliciousness for readers who like that but don’t want to be inundated with a ton of world-building (I for one don’t mind excessive world-building, but not everyone feels that way).

Emelia Hudson is not only a bartender but a bar-owner, that is, until she’s notified that Drake Wilder’s company has purchased her building, which means either her deed is worthless or Wilder is a ruthless shark bent on ruining the little guy. She needs money and access to figure out what’s going on, so working as a temp for his company seems like a good way to weasel her way under his defenses and challenge him with the truth.

Four Weddings and a Werewolf (Seattle Wolf Pack #2) by Kristin Miller (Entangled Publishing, October 28, 2013)

Emelia gets under Drake’s defenses all right. A couple of stolen moments at his company’s Halloween party (where she is dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, naturally, since he’s really the Big Bad Wolf) and Drake is faced with the startling conclusion that this human is his Luminary – his destined mate for whom he’s searched for centuries and given up as a myth.

There are some startling ripples in the pond from this development. Drake’s father willed the alpha slot of his pack to whichever of his sons found their destined mate first, and the stalemate has kept things calm between Drake and his unstable twin, Silas, a calm that has clearly preceded the storm that finding Emelia is about to unleash.

But she knows nothing about Drake being a werewolf, and in fact can barely stand him as a person since she’s so threatened by his company’s actions. Yet as Emelia tries to reconcile the facts with what her instincts are proclaiming – that despite her experience of one untrustworthy man after another, Drake might just be the real thing – her feelings help her fight through obstacle after obstacle to try and make their connection work for both of them.

With any other writer, I’d be scoffing at so many elements thrown together, and when I say this reminds me of a yummy category romance, I mean it. Both characters have the occasional TSTL moment, there is layer upon layer of misunderstanding, they take two steps forward and then one step back, etc., yet Miller somehow builds enough emotion and character depth that you are ready to accept it as part of the story, letting you sit back and enjoy the ride.

Since this is the start of Miller’s Seattle Wolf Pack series, I’ll be interested to read the next book in the series, Four Weddings and a Werewolf, due to come out next week. Featuring one of Emelia’s bodyguards – the cold and remote Logan – partnered with a wedding planner who hates werewolves, it’s bound to be interesting. :-) At a mere $2.99 a pop, these books are also priced just right for regular consumption.

Happy reading!

Fatal Strike by Shannon McKenna Shoots for Heart with Pulse-Pounding Romantic Suspense

11 Oct

Fatal Strike (McClouds & Friends #10) by Shannon McKenna (Kensington, September 24, 2013)

I’m finding that the authors who emerge as some of my favorite writers are ones who aren’t afraid to push the category envelope. Whether it’s the explosion of ebooks which allows publishers to promote new novels under a variety of categories (versus the bookstore model where there was only one shelf a book could sit upon) or just reader demand, stories that involve multiple elements make me putty in the hands of a good writer.

Shannon McKenna’s McClouds & Friends series is just such an example. I fell in love with a NetGalley copy of One Wrong Move, instantly intrigued by her combination of romantic suspense, paranormal elements and an alpha hero teetering on the edge of asshole. Her writing is tight and suspenseful with McKenna unhesitant in continuing detailed story arcs of villainous bad guys and their evil henchmen who must fall (or at least retreat) in the face of the McClouds and their allies in each book in the series.

Fatal Strike not only met all my expectations but it melted my inner marshmallow with the evolved hero, Miles. It’s been easy to love gentle Miles over the series as he assisted the McClouds with his high tech wizardry and suffered at the hands of McCloud in-law, the slutty Cindy, who would always cheat on him until he cut her loose. But the final showdown in One Wrong Move left Miles in a coma after brutal torture with psi-powers and he has emerged a changed man.

In his opinion, it’s not been a change for the better. His psi-ability is now off the charts, and while he has invented an elaborate shield in his mind in an attempt to initially protect himself (and now to control his ability), he nevertheless is constantly being fed physical and environmental data that has elevated him from techno-geek to official badass, finally unleashing all the skills the McClouds have attempted to teach him for his own protection over the years.

The only thing that makes him feel better as he lives in the wild and hide from his friends is when the image of Lara Kirk – the woman Miles searched for over the course of months and never found – slips right through his defenses and comes to visit. She’s a beautiful dream and one so erotic that their encounters exceed any actual physical sex he’s ever had, but she’s also a symbol of how crazy he’s become and her recurring presence has him pondering how long he has before his friends have to commit him to a mental hospital.

One Wrong Move (McClouds & Friends #9) by Shannon McKenna (Kensington, June 2013)

A major wrinkle in his thinking is that Lara is not a dream. By focusing on her over all those months of searching, Miles unknowingly created a back door for her to enter his mental refuge and his shield is just that – a refuge of safety – to Lara as well. She’s being held and tortured with psi-drugs developed by a man bent on “saving humanity” from itself, and part of that plan appears to be unleashing Lara’s powers. She doesn’t know who the erotic sex god who occupies this lovely Citadel is exactly, but he’s the only thing that helps her cling to sanity.

It’s only when a series of events reveals to each of them that this isn’t fantasy – the realization which helps Miles free Lara from her prison – that their dream world becomes a living nightmare. Because even with their strong psychic connection and intense physical attraction, a man continues to stalk them, bent on using both of them to kill thousands if not millions of people.

Is there anything sexier than the geek turned total alpha hottie? (Don’t answer. That was a rhetorical question.) Of course not! Miles, who we know is a love of a guy, is so damaged and yet trying to do the right thing even when no one around him understands, that your heart breaks right at the beginning of this book. I found myself clinging to Lara as much as Miles did because I understood that to each of these broken people, the other person was going to be their refuge and their salvation.

McKenna’s ebook bundles of the early books in the series are terrific deals in your local library isn’t carrying them (or you just want them on your ereader!).

Lara was a terrific heroine who had just as pure a heart as Miles and yet whose fragility masks intense strength, even when she wasn’t ready to see it herself. I love it that she always called Miles on his bullshit (McKenna never writes a hero who doesn’t at some point turn into a complete asshole – for good reasons in his head, but still) and that she could love him even when she was angry at his behavior. There are a few scenes that make you want them both to see a therapist, but they are luckily the work of the situation and hardly a permanent dynamic. McKenna also possess a real talent for the three-dimensional villain, who has you understanding his twisted motives even while you’re busy hating his nefarious plans.

I’m sure with Fatal Strike the tenth book in this long-running series some readers might be hesitant about jumping in. Don’t be. McKenna has the talent of writing each of her books in such a way that while you recognize other characters clearly have their own back story, you do not need to have read those books in order to appreciate the novel in question. Fans of the series will love the appearance of so many of the previous couples and their burgeoning families, however, with their presence much more visible than in One Wrong Move.

It’s worth mentioning that McKenna has bundles of the first books in the series available for ereaders, with the first five going for under $15 or the first seven books costing a smidgen over $20, both excellent deals as her books run in the 350 to 400 page range. I think readers who love paranormal psychic storylines and/or lovers of romantic suspense will both find so much to admire and enjoy in Shannon McKenna’s McClouds & Friends series. Walk don’t run to your bookseller or library to pick up a copy!

The Erotic Tempo of Heavy Metal Heart by Nico Rosso Will Have You Making Finger Devil Horns While You Read

7 Oct

Heavy Metal Heart (Demon Rock #1 – Trevor and Misty) by Nico Rosso (Carina Press, September 30, 2013)

I do enjoy rock star romances as long as they don’t descend into skeevy groupie sex territory. As long as everyone is consenting and of age, I’m usually the first to admit that this environment is terrific for erotic romance as rock n’ roll is all about sexual energy. Like the drummer from This is Spinal Tap says in the bathtub, “Well, so long as there’s sex and drugs I don’t need rock n’ roll.”

Nico Rosso’s Heavy Metal Heart, the first in his Demon Rock series, is a thundering paranormal romance set in this world of rock star celebrities. Trevor Sands is understandably jaded. When you are a near-immortal satyr capable of channelling the elements, you’ve pretty much seen it all. Together with his bandmates, they rock audience after audience in order to feed off their energy as they’ve done since the Bacchanalian revelries of ancient times. Yet throughout it all they have practically given up on the ideal of the “Muse” – a destined mate for each satyr who once found can feed him forever.

But even while admitting it’s probably a myth, Trevor has always dreamed of a green-eyed woman, even immortalizing her in his music, but it’s been over a millennia and she’s never appeared. When she does turn up at one of his gigs in Los Angeles, the connection is palpable and thankfully she seeks him out after a high-energy concert where she stood out like a beacon in the crowd. Trevor found himself singing directly to her, yet knew that if she was the one, she had to come to him.

Nymph and Satyr (1860) by Alexandre Cabanel. Image from Wikipedia.com.

Misty Grant couldn’t stop her feet moving toward Trevor Sands if she tried. She has felt a connection to him since the first time she heard his music and listening to him sing directly to her tonight has only strengthened her desire to be with him. But when he, emboldened by their unbelievable sexual encounter, reveals his true self to her, she runs – right into the heart of a world that could kill her for what she is.

This is a nonstop, page-turning story imbued with not only highly poetic language but also a cinematic narrative. Like many movies, the action is relentless and I imagine this pace is a direct result of the novella length of the story. My only criticism is that I did wish for a little lull in the sex and violence (not that I didn’t enjoy those aspects) so I could see the two characters relax and get to know one another in a less stressed environment. (I think it would have strengthened their connection even further.) It was unsurprising to discover from Rosso’s bio that he worked in the film industry, both from his insider knowledge crafting Misty’s mind-numbing job as well as his approach to the conflict and action of the story.

The overwhelming eroticism in Heavy Metal Heart is natural in a world of satyrs born from the energy of revelry long since past. It’s impressive exactly how many sexual encounters Rosso manages to pack into about 130 pages ;-)! The hunger Misty and Trevor have for one another is amplified by the energy they are capable of exchanging with one another and it shows in sex where the earth literally moves. While Trevor has suffered more than Misty, their sudden connection must be like someone sitting down to a banquet table when they haven’t really eaten in months.

Finger devil horn gesture – it’s all about appreciating the rock n’ roll, people.

This novel definitely falls under erotic romance, with voyeurism and a little back door action part of the sexual experience of the protagonists, so check your reservations at the door. At least Rosso didn’t give the satyrs two penises like I’ve seen in other paranormal romance involving this type of supernatural creature (that just sounds unnecessarily complicated)!

Fans of music throughout the ages will enjoy the numerous references to musicians past and present as well as Trevor’s original lyrics quoted throughout the story. He has put his centuries of experience – particularly his yearning for connection with the mysterious green-eyed woman who has lived in his fantasies – into his songs and this lends a wonderful dimension to the narrative. The poetic phrasing and dialogue does take a little adjustment as a reader, but it seems appropriate that long-lived creatures would not speak with the same cadence as the modern era around them.

I would definitely pick up the next book, particularly since I think the shorter length of the novella lends itself to world-building over the course of a series. I’m now heading over to Spotify to listen to some growly, fast-paced rock n’ roll, so I can flip my own devil horns to the computer screen while thinking about Trevor and Misty. Thanks, Nico Rosso!

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